There’s no free pass for noble intentions.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley penned an essay in today’s Washington Post on his opposition to the death penalty. I like and agree with much of it. The state should not be in the business of killing people when a less troublesome solution is available. I see no reason that life without parole can’t guarantee the same benefit to society. That, and I don’t want people killing in my name any more than necessary.

However, his essay is not perfect.

And what of the tremendous cost of pursuing capital punishment? In 2002, Judge Dale Cathell of the Maryland Court of Appeals wrote that, according to his research, processing and imprisoning a death penalty defendant “costs $400,000 over and above . . . a prisoner serving a life sentence.” Given that 56 people have been sentenced to death in Maryland since 1978, our state has spent about $22.4 million more than the cost of life imprisonment. That’s nearly $4.5 million “extra” for each of the five executions carried out. And so long as every American is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the cost of due process will not go down.

If, however, we were to replace the death penalty with life without parole, that $22.4 million could pay for 500 additional police officers or provide drug treatment for 10,000 of our addicted neighbors. Unlike the death penalty, these are investments that save lives and prevent violent crime. If we knew we could spare a member of our family from becoming a victim of violent crime by making this policy change, would we do it?

Why not stop at stating that Maryland has spent an estimated $22.4 million more than necessary to achieve the same result? That’s money that Marylanders do not need to pay to the state to receive effective government. But I get his point. He’s advocating an argument that Maryland can be even safer if the money is better spent. It’s a pleasant argument without guaranteed results. It’ll market his solution to a few more people. Still, it’s extraneous fluff not central to the topic of what government should do to convicted murderers.

Gov. O’Malley’s second suggestion irks me more. Of course we should save those millions, because then we can fight the War on Drugs treat drug addicts. Drugs are bad, mmmkay. This isn’t even a pleasant argument. It’s marketing to the basest understanding of where morality and public policy should meet. I can think of only one way for Gov. O’Malley to make his suggestions worse: propose using that $22.4 million for 500 additional police officers to arrest 10,000 drug addicted Marylanders. I’m actually surprised he didn’t.

For what it’s worth, note that Gov. O’Malley suggests using money saved over 28 years to pay for 500 officers for 1 year. Talked about an unfunded mandate based on feel-good marketing.