WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At 678, California has the nation's largest death row population, yet the state has not executed anyone in four years.
But it spends more than $130 million a year on its capital punishment system -- housing and prosecuting inmates and coping with an appellate system that has kept some convicted killers waiting for an execution date since the late 1970s.
This is according to a new report that concludes that states are wasting millions on an inefficient death penalty system
, diverting scarce funds from other anti-crime and law enforcement programs.
"Thirty-five states still retain the death penalty, but fewer and fewer executions are taking place every year,"
said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "But the overall death row population has remained relatively steady.
At a time of budget shortfalls nationwide, the death penalty is turning into an expensive form of life without parole."
His group commissioned the study released Tuesday.
A privately conducted poll of 500 police chiefs released with the report found the death penalty ranked last among their priorities for reducing violent crime. Only 1 percent found it to the best way to achieve that goal. Adding police officers ranked first.
The death row population in 2007, the most-recent statistic available from the Justice Department, was 3,220. It was at 2,250 two decades ago, but the numbers have not grown significantly since 2000.
Forty executions have occurred so far in 2009 in 10 states, all by lethal injection. That total is up from 37 for all of last year, but less than half of the high of 98, from 10 years ago. The Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.
Ohio recently suspended lethal injections after corrections officials were forced to cancel the execution of Romell Broom last month, when a suitable vein could not be found after two hours of trying.
Virginia plans a Nov. 10 execution for John Allen Muhammad, the so-called Beltway Sniper, convicted of randomly killing 10 people in 2002 with a high-powered rifle.
The Death Penalty Information Center study found that death penalty costs can average $10 million more per year per state than life sentences.
Increased costs include higher security needs and guaranteed access to an often lengthy pardon and appellate process.
The group is an information resource on capital punishment, and opposes its application as unworkable, inefficient and prone to mistakes.
Florida, where two men have been put to death this year, spends an average of $24 million per execution.
That average has remained consistent since 2005, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.