Report: Only 2 Percent of U.S. Counties Behind Most Executions

Harris County is responsible for 115 executions since 1976 -- by far the highest driver of capital punishment -- but taxpayers statewide have to bear the burden of the costly appeals process, according to a new study by an anti-death penalty group.

The Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center report states that two percent of all U.S. counties lead in both the number of executions and number of inmates on death row.

Citing other reports' claims that an execution-hungry county can cost a state upwards of $30 million per capital case, the DPIC suggests that the money could be better spent on hiring police officers and teachers.

The report claims that "high-use counties," such as Harris County, "do not shoulder their own burdens, but instead shift the costs to every taxpayer, many of whom are unaware of the exorbitant costs or the unfavorable record of reversals and unfairness."

From the report:

Death-penalty costs can be broken into three categories: trial-related costs, appellate costs, and incarceration costs. (The cost of an actual execution is negligible by comparison). Trial costs may be split between the county that brings the prosecution and the state. Counties usually pay for appointed defense counsel, while the chief prosecutor of the county and the judge may be paid by the state....hen death sentences are overturned, the costs multiply further.

While we're not entirely convinced of the efficacy of this argument -- don't the greater tax bases of those "high-use counties" mean those counties also pay more into the state pot? -- the report has some interesting stats.

- Texas boasts nine of the top 15 counties by executions since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated.

- Harris County has sent 115 inmates to their death, more than twice the number sent by the second county on the list -- Dallas County, with 50 executions.

- Tarrant, Bexar, Jefferson, Montgomery, Brazos, Nueces, and Potter counties have executed 125 inmates since 1976.

- Four counties out of Texas' 254 account for almost half of the state's executions.

- Harris County is second in the nation for death row inmates -- at 101 -- greatly trailing Los Angeles County, with 228 inmates.

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