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Tuesday, July 22, 2014
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Informer: State lacks full study of death penalty costs

Last Modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 6:25 PM

By Andrew Perzo / American Press

I heard it was cheaper to execute an inmate than to keep him in prison for life. Is that true?

Sort of.

It undoubtedly costs far less to kill an inmate than to feed, clothe, house and care for him for the rest of his life.

But most sources The Informer checked agree that pursuing the death penalty involves much higher expenditures — attorney costs, longer trials, expert witnesses, automatic appeals — than seeking a life sentence.

According to “Diminishing All of Us: The Death Penalty in Louisiana,” a report produced last year by Loyola University New Orleans’ Jesuit Social Research Institute, “it is clearly established in Louisiana and around the country that the cost of pursuing the death penalty is infinitely greater than the costs of pursuing a life-without-parole sentence for murder.”

But the report notes that no one has ever conducted a “comprehensive study on the costs of a death penalty case in Louisiana.”

Among the findings in the report:

“Louisiana leads the nation in the percentage of death row inmates who are African-American.”

“Localized studies within the most aggressive death penalty districts in Louisiana have found that cases involving white victims are disproportionately targeted for the death penalty by our elected district attorneys.”

“Per capita, Louisiana has one of the highest wrongful-conviction rates in the country. More people have been exonerated in Louisiana in the last ten years than executed.”

“Louisiana’s death row is overrepresented by individuals with childhood trauma.”

“Many individuals on Louisiana’s death row were under 21 when they were arrested.”

“Louisiana’s death row is overrepresented by individuals with intellectual disabilities.”

“Louisiana’s death row is overrepresented by individuals with mental illness.”

“In the last ten years, 50% of Louisiana’s capital cases have been sent back for a new trial from federal courts.”

Online: www.deathpenaltyinfo.org.


Which word is right, ‘which’ or ‘what’?

Wednesday’s column answered a question that began with the phrase “What criteria are used.” That evening a reader sent The Informer an email whose subject line contained the entire message: “Proper dictoin is ‘Which criteria’, not ‘What criteria’.”

Well, no.

In such interrogative sentences, “what” generally indicates an unknown number of possibilities, and “which” usually presents a choice from among a given range.

Because the reader whose question was answered Wednesday knew none of the factors involved in the decision he was asking about, “what” was appropriate.

If the reader had ended the query with a list of possible criteria, then “which” would have been the proper word.

• • •

The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email informer@americanpress.com

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