July 23, 2018

ABA Death Penalty Due Process Review Project analyzes savings for a severe mental illness exemption

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2018 — The American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Due Process Review Project has released a study titled “Potential Cost-Savings of a Severe Mental Illness Exclusion from the Death Penalty: An Analysis of Tennessee Data,” which presents a preliminary cost estimate for Tennessee if it enacted a severe mental illness exemption for the death penalty.

In 2006, the ABA called for all jurisdictions that continue to use the death penalty to enact an exclusion so that defendants who had a severe mental illness at the time of committing the crime would not be eligible for the death penalty. The Death Penalty Due Process Review Project has written extensively about the legal and ethical justifications for this policy and supported reform efforts. In considering the appropriateness of this reform, many policymakers have also cited the increased costs to states and localities of seeking and imposing capital punishment and sought information about the potential cost savings of a severe mental illness exemption. To that end, analysts almost unanimously agree that the death penalty is significantly more expensive than cases where prosecutors seek a life sentence. No researchers, however, have yet undergone an empirical study on this topic or conclusively quantified the fiscal impact of a severe mental illness exclusion.

While the analysis is limited in its scope and data set, it presents the first reasonable estimation of how much money a state like Tennessee could save if it enacts such a policy — approximately $1.4 to $1.9 million a year. This report also offers a model methodology for others to apply to their states to better assess the public policy effects of a severe mental illness exclusion to the death penalty.

Read the report here

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