In late February of this year, the Nevada Department of Corrections closed the Nevada State Prison (NSP) in Carson City. NSP was the oldest prison in the state and was one of the oldest in the country that was still in operation. The facility was forced to close due to major budget constraints in the state. All of the inmates that were housed in the facility were transferred to other institutions, including Ely State Prison, which houses Nevada’s current death row.
Closing NSP might a stop to any executions in Nevada because NSP housed the state’s only death chamber. Although Nevada Department of Corrections officials say an execution could be carried out, there are serious questions about whether Nevada has a solid plan in place to deal with an execution, including transporting and holding an inmate who is about to be executed. In addition, the drug that is currently used to perform lethal injections is no longer available. If any inmate currently on death row makes a voluntary decision to drop his appeals and be executed, the state has no means to do so.
Recently the Nevada Department of Corrections has submitted a Bill Draft Request seeking $385,000 to create a new execution chamber at Ely State Prison. According to a study that examined the costs of defense attorneys in Clark County spends an additional $200,000 in defense costs alone to prosecute an offender when the death penalty is introduced. This figure does not include costs to the prosecution. There are also substantial additional costs that come from appeals of a death penalty sentence, which have not been studied in Nevada, and also incarceration costs
In essence, if the bill that the Nevada Department of Corrections is seeking is approved, the state could spend millions to build a death chamber and try death penalty cases, possibly without carrying out a single execution. This is at a time when government layoffs and the cutting of essential state programs are a real possibility.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia do not have the death penalty. In recent years more states have begun to reconsider their policies on the death penalty and more agencies have come to the realization that the cost to try a death case, including the appeals process and incarceration, is astronomical.
Nevada should take some time to reconsider its position on the death penalty and weigh the heavy costs of capital punishment. In the state of Nevada, since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977, there have only been 12 executions, and 11 were voluntary. Is it worth the cost to continue a policy that has little effect on crime and has costs that are well beyond the state’s budget?