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How much does death by electric chair cost?

The electric chair has been used as a method of execution in the United States since the late 19th century. Despite its decline in use in recent decades, it remains an authorized method of execution in eight states. The cost of executing someone by electric chair depends on a number of factors, but generally totals tens of thousands of dollars per execution.

Cost breakdown

The costs associated with executing someone by electric chair include:

Electric chair equipment and maintenance

States that authorize execution by electric chair must obtain and maintain the equipment. The initial cost of an electric chair can range from $5,000 to $20,000. Ongoing maintenance is required to keep the equipment operational, which may cost around $300 per year. Testing and inspections prior to each execution can add additional costs.

Facility and personnel

Executions require specific facilities equipped for this purpose, as well as trained personnel to carry them out. Prison facilities where executions occur need dedicated spaces specially designed for this use, which carries construction, maintenance, and operation expenses. Personnel such as executioners and medical professionals receive additional pay for their services during executions.

Legal expenses

Inmates sentenced to death have lengthy appeals processes that involve significant legal expenses over many years. States must fund public defender services, judges, court personnel, and attorney fees during this appeals process. While not specific to electrocution, these costs contribute significantly to the overall expense.

Materials and supplies

In addition to the electric chair itself, executions require other equipment such as restraints and a headpiece, as well as supplies like sponges and special chemicals. These items need periodic replacement.

Cost estimates

It’s difficult to put an exact figure on the cost of death by electric chair, but we can look at some estimates:

State Estimated cost per execution
Tennessee $5,000 – $7,000
Arkansas $5,000
Nebraska $14,000

These numbers only account for the immediate execution costs. When factoring in the many years of appeals and incarceration leading up to an execution, estimates for the total cost per death penalty case often exceed $1 million.

Why execution by electric chair is expensive

There are a few reasons why executing someone by electric chair tends to be more costly than other methods:

– Specialized equipment is required that must be purchased, installed, and maintained. Lethal injection is more readily available in prisons.

– Strict safety protocols, extensive testing, and facilities specifically for executions increase costs. Other execution methods may not need the same level of preparation.

– Skilled and specially trained personnel are needed to properly conduct electrocutions. Other methods like lethal injection are less complex in their administration.

– Legal expenses incurred through extensive appeals account for the majority of costs and are fixed regardless of method.

Cost considerations

When evaluating the costs around method of execution, both economic and ethical considerations come into play:

– Although electrocution may be more expensive upfront, a state that already owns a functioning electric chair avoids recurring costs of drugs and pharmaceuticals for lethal injection.

– The higher costs could be worthwhile if the electric chair is considered more humane or reliable than other methods. However, there is significant debate around humaneness.

– While the cumulative costs for death penalty cases are far greater than the execution method alone, selecting a less expensive option could lead to some degree of cost savings.

– Litigation around execution methods and any mishaps may drive costs higher. States must weigh these risks when authorizing any method of execution.


Executing an inmate by electric chair carries steep costs compared to other methods like lethal injection. Annual maintenance and testing expenses combined with extensive legal appeals result in total price tags well over $1 million per death penalty case. For states that still authorize electrocution, officials must determine if the costs are appropriate given liability risks and ethical debates around the practice. However, eliminating the electric chair in favor of more cost-effective options opens its own legal, moral, and practical concerns. With capital punishment entangled in broader issues surrounding costs, humaneness, and public opinion, the financial burden associated with electrocutions continues to fuel discussions around the death penalty’s future.