Nebraskans would save $14.6 million a year by replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life imprisonment, according to an economic study prepared for opponents of a referendum to restore capital punishment in the state.
The study written by Creighton University economist Ernie Goss was released Monday at a news conference in Lincoln.
The results, Goss said, surprised him and have caused him to reconsider his own personal position on the issue, prompting him to “lean toward voting to retain” the pending law to repeal the death penalty.
The results of the study by Goss and Associates Economic Solutions will be the focus of a new TV ad campaign to be launched later this month by Retain a Just Nebraska, the organization formed to oppose the referendum to restore the death penalty in the state.
The Legislature abolished the death penalty in 2015, overriding a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts, but implementation of the new law was halted by a successful petition drive to submit the issue to the voters.
Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, who helped lead the legislative effort to repeal the death penalty, said the new study should demonstrate to voters that “it’s a costly endeavor to continue a government program that is not working.”
The death penalty has been used once in Nebraska in the past 19 years and three times in the past 41.
Meanwhile, funding is needed for education and to “fix corrections problems,” he said, as well as to help lower property taxes.
Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln, a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said senators are looking for cost savings as they approach a challenging new budget cycle.
Goss said costs associated with the death penalty as opposed to a sentence of life without parole are higher at every stage of the judicial and correctional process, including legal defense, pre-trial activities, jury selection, length of trial, incarceration and appeal.
Each additional death penalty arraignment costs the state almost $1.5 million, he said.
Ten men are now on death row.
Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, the organization supporting the referendum, swiftly rejected the argument of cost savings.
“Opponents of the death penalty want Nebraskans to believe that there will be millions of taxpayer dollars saved by eliminating the death penalty,” said Bob Evnen of Lincoln. “The Legislature’s fiscal office says this just isn’t true.”
He pointed to a fiscal note attached to the costs of the bill that repealed the death penalty.
Originally published by Lincoln Journal Star on August 15th, 2016