U.S.

Republicans Want to Kill the Death Penalty Because Executing People is Too Expensive

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In the last five years, there has been a significant increase in the number of Republican sponsors of repeal legislation with dozens of Republican lawmakers supporting death penalty repeal bills. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Republican lawmakers are increasingly trying to repeal the death penalty in GOP-held states amid concerns over botched procedures and the high costs associated with long appeals and wrongful convictions, a new report shows.

In the last five years, there has been a significant increase in the number of Republican sponsors of repeal legislation with dozens of Republican lawmakers supporting death penalty repeal bills in 2016 and 2017, according to the report by Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. 

The review indicates that 10 times more GOP legislators moved for repeal compared to 2000, rejecting a long-held Republican belief that support for the death penalty is a "tough on crime" pillar of the GOP establishment.

1025_Death_Penalty_Republicans Republicans want to repeal capital punishment amid concerns over botched procedures, high costs and wrongful conviction. Mike Simons/Getty Images

'These failures are too egregious to ignore'

A spike in bipartisan death penalty repeal may signal a conservative American shift. Marc Hyden, a national coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty said capital punishment is expensive, wrongful convictions are "far too frequent" and drug complications often make the killing inhumane. 

"These failures are too egregious to be able to ignore," Hyden told Newsweek. "The Republican momentum to end the death penalty is real, and it's gaining steam."

The state-level push is important since most executions occur at the local level. Thirty-one states allow the death penalty, and deep-red southern states lead the way for capital punishment. Texas and Arkansas have executed the most prisoners in 2017.

Democrat lawmakers still lead the charge to reform the criminal justice system, but Republicans are more open to supporting those laws. Republican have joined repeal efforts in Missouri, Kentucky, Kansas, Montana, South Dakota and a handful of other Republican-held states. No such policies were introduced in Texas or Arkansas.

A Rejection of 'Tough on Crime' Campaigns

As young politicians enter state legislatures, the trend is likely to continue. Millennials support the death penalty far less than their older counterparts and widely reject the idea the notion that capital punishment is akin to being tough on crime, polls show.

"Conservatives are changing their views on the criminal justice system because our predecessors left us with a mess of a program," Hyden told Newsweek.

Legislators have their own reasons for opposing the death penalty. For some conservatives, it flies in the face of fiscal responsibility or runs afoul of conservative vows to rein in government. The report said the revelation of high costs led former Nebraska Senator Colby Coash, a Republican, to remark that "if the death penalty were any other government program, we would have got rid of it a long time ago."

Other Republicans say it's a "culture of life" issue, pushed along with a little encouragement from Pope Francis, who told a crowd of Catholic leaders in October that the “death penalty is an inhumane measure" that removes any opportunity for redemption.

Louisiana State Senator Dan Claitor pushed a Republican-sponsored repeal in April, citing his Catholic faith. The bill did not pass the state's GOP-led Senate.

“As a Catholic, I am compelled to act on a moral basis relative to the death penalty. Life, both at the beginning and at the end, must be my primary consideration as a Catholic legislator,” Claitor said in a statement.

1025_Death_Penalty_Republicans2 Death penalty trials bring pricier lawyers, more state-funded trials and expensive death row incarceration, according to the Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Why is Death More Expensive Than Prison?

Hyden's studies show that the death penalty is more expensive than housing a prisoner in jail. It's costly to imprison someone for life—but death penalty trials bring pricier lawyers, more state-funded trials and expensive death row incarceration that extends over many years.

The Death Penalty Information Center said maintaining a death row system and supporting new prosecutions that likely will never be carried out costs states hundreds of millions of dollars, even if they do not have an execution. The higher costs start at the trial level itself, with death penalty cases averaging $3 million compared to $2 million for life-in-prison cases.

"Every level of process is far more costly," Hyden told Newsweek. "This is what it does across the United States."

The United States recently voted against a U.N. resolution supporting the end of capital punishment, a proposal that also condemned the death penalty as punishment for LGBT relationships. The U.S. was criticized for its vote, which put America on the same side of the issue as documented human rights abusers as Saudi Arabia, China, and the United Arab Emirates.