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NEVADA VIEWS: Time to abolish Nevada’s expensive, ineffective death penalty

The Assembly voted last month to abolish the state’s ineffective and fiscally reckless death penalty. As a fiscal conservative who is committed to protecting taxpayers from government mismanagement, I couldn’t be happier.

Assembly Bill 395 is now before the state Senate. For the sake of state taxpayers, it should follow the Assembly’s lead.

The cost of executions has skyrocketed nationwide. This is due in part to the exorbitant cost of capital prosecutions, as well as the choice of lethal injection as a method of execution.

Although legislators first sold lethal injection to the public as a cost-effective execution method, it turned out to be a huge boondoggle for taxpayers. A new report by the Guardian US reveals that Arizona recently spent $1.5 million to obtain the ingredients for lethal injection drugs.

Lethal injection drugs break the bank because they are not available on the open market. Every company that makes FDA-approved drugs listed in execution protocols has contracts in place that prevent their drugs from being used to put inmates to death. This is the free market in action: The right to choose with whom and how to do business is one of the ideals on which our Republic was founded.

When states circumvent contracts to buy drugs on the gray market at jacked-up prices, they put taxpayers on the hook for costly litigation by drug companies enforcing their rights.

The Silver State’s own experience bears this out. Just a few years ago, state officials subverted corporate contracts to acquire midazolam with the intent to use it as part of a three-drug lethal injection cocktail. Alvogen, the drug’s maker, sued the state to prevent the government from using their product to kill people. The suit was later joined by two other companies that learned their medicines had also been illegally obtained by Nevada.

A state judge blocked the state from using the midazolam in an execution because it did not procure the drug “in good faith, and it did so knowing that it violated Alvogen’s property rights.” After more than two years of litigation that cost Nevada taxpayers more than $100,000, the state eventually returned the medicines.

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lethal injection drugs, capital prosecutions themselves are hugely wasteful. According to a legislative audit in 2014, the death penalty in Nevada adds more than $500,000 to each prosecution.

That cost is particularly steep here in Clark County, where most of the state’s death penalty cases are prosecuted. Local residents shell out about $5 million a year to pay for death penalty trials and appeals and to house inmates on death row rather than with the regular prison population.

For years, some death penalty supporters claimed the exorbitant cost of capital punishment was justified because it prevented violent crime. But it doesn’t.

The National Research Council reviewed all available studies and data pertaining to the death penalty in America and determined that it does not deter murder or violent crimes. States with the death penalty actually have more murders and higher violent crime rates than non-death penalty states.

In fact, seven of the 10 states with the highest per capita murder rates have the death penalty. But seven of the 10 states with the lowest per capita murder rates do not.

Every dollar saved by abolishing this ineffective and wasteful system could be better spent on programs that actually protect Nevadans or returned to taxpayers still struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the pandemic and economic shutdowns.

The death penalty is an emotional subject with peoples’ view on the issue rooted in religion, pain, vengeance and forgiveness. But it’s also public policy — a badly failed one.

Nevada’s state senators owe it to the state’s residents to examine the death penalty like any other government program. The death penalty wastes taxpayer money, threatens to undermine private contracts and endangers the public health. There is no good reason to continue Nevada’s death penalty, but there are millions of reasons that taxpayers should want it to end.

Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior scholar at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. He writes from Las Vegas.

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