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Death penalty is too expensive for states, study finds

State and local governments facing budget crunches can realize big savings by eliminating the death penalty, according to a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center.

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A group opposing capital punishment is urging government officials to reassess the costs and benefits of the death penalty in light of America's economic troubles.

State and local governments facing dire budget crunches can realize substantial savings by replacing capital punishment with a regime that sentences the worst offenders to life in prison without parole, according to a report released Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

The number of death sentences handed down in the United States has dropped from roughly 300 a year in the 1990s to 115 a year more recently. Executions are falling off at the same rate, the report says.

In the meantime, some 3,300 inmates remain on death row.

"[T]he death penalty is turning into a very expensive form of life without parole," said Richard Dieter, DPIC executive director, in a statement. "At a time of budget shortfalls, the death penalty cannot be exempt from reevaluation alongside other wasteful government programs that no longer make sense."

Despite the report's findings, the death penalty has the support of most Americans. According to an October 2008 Gallup survey, 64 percent of Americans favor the death penalty for a person convicted of murder. Thirty percent oppose it.

Only once in the past 70 years (in 1966-67) did more Americans oppose capital punishment than support it, the poll results show. In that time span, 47 percent opposed it, while 42 percent supported it.

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