The Bulletin

How much does not killing two people cost? Virginia put $72K price tag on halting executions.

By: - February 6, 2020 1:42 pm
Correctional officers stand at the entrance to the Greensville Correctional Center on Nov. 10, 2009, near Jarratt, Virginia. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Correctional officers stand at the entrance to the Greensville Correctional Center on Nov. 10, 2009, near Jarratt, Virginia. Greensville is home to the state’s execution chamber. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A Senate panel voted this week to delay consideration of a bill abolishing the death penalty until next year. In the House, similar legislation never got a vote because a late fiscal impact estimate put a $72,630 price tag on the proposal.

That cost analysis, prepared by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, reasoned that there are two people currently on death row and that if they’re not executed, the state will need two more prison beds to house them, which they calculate would cost the state $72,630.

Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, who proposed the legislation in the House, said that the legislation wasn’t flagged as requiring a budget amendment to move forward until it was too late to submit one, effectively killing the bill on a technicality.

“I was livid,” he said.

Over in the Senate, Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, argued during a committee hearing Wednesday evening that abolishing the death penalty would actually save the state money because it would no longer need to spend nearly $4 million a year staffing capital defender offices and spending an undisclosed amount of money procuring secret execution drugs.

But mostly, he said abolishing the death penalty is the moral thing to do, arguing at least 110 people who were later exonerated have been put to death in the country.

The only group to speak against the bill Wednesday was the Virginia State Police Association.

“To me, it just sends a very chilling message to law enforcement when we talk about eliminating capital punishment for a conviction of killing a police officer,” said the group’s director, Wayne Huggins, a former State Police superintendent.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-5 to defer consideration of the bill until next year.

Carter said he plans to reintroduce the House version of the legislation next year as well.

“Fortunately, there’s time to handle this next year since folks don’t have scheduled execution dates,” he said.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.