Last week the State of Illinois abolished the death penalty and cleared their death row.
Wednesday, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois signed a new law banning the death penalty in the states. The 15 death row inmates in Illinois prisons have seen their sentences commuted to life without parole.
“Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it,” Quinn wrote. “With our broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in every case.”
The ban follows a moratorium on the death penalty, which was put in place by Republican Governor, George Ryan, 11 years ago. The permanent ban will take effect July 1st.
This is a brave and enlightened step, one which I hope others will soon follow.
Over the last five years, the United States has averaged around 50 executions a year. Leading the pack is Texas, with an average of about 17 executions per year. Ohio is second, with less than half that number.
35 states and the federal government have the death penalty. Some states rarely sentence to death row. Some have a lot of prisoners on death row, but rarely execute. Some, like Texas, have executed 40 percent of its death row population. California, which has the country’s highest death row population (695 people) has only executed one percent.
The United States has dubious company in the execution market. The only countries that execute more people are China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Capital punishment is almost unheard of in the Western Hemisphere, except in the US. For more statistics, read here.
There is absolutely no compelling reason for the death penalty. Besides being barbaric, it does absolutely no good.
- Innocents are executed- Since the death penalty was reinstated in the US in 1976, 82 inmates have been freed from death row. Some weren’t that lucky. Death penalty inmates are typically poor and often minority. It is usually handed down to those who can’t afford a good lawyer.
- Executions are very expensive – On average, it costs $2 million to put prisoners through appeals and keep them under maximum security. Some will argue that we should trim the appeals process, which will only guarantee that innocents will be executed.
- It doesn’t stop crime – The US boasts a murder rate of 6 times that of Great Britain and 5 times that of Australia, both countries without the death penalty. Texas has twice Wisconsin’s murder rate. Wisconsin has no death penalty and Texas uses the death penalty the most freely.
- Many religions are against the death penalty – yet ironically, many Christians are for it.
- The death penalty violates international human rights laws.
- It is handed down arbitrarily – Serial killers have gotten life in prison. The mentally ill have been sentenced to death because of improper representation.
- Finally, it is state mandated murder – An eye for an eye is a Biblical punishment, not one of a civilized justice system.
Many will argue, “You’d feel different if something happened to a member of your family.” That might be true, but there is a reason that juries are not made up of friends and families of the victims. Justice in its purest form is reason, not emotion. Capital punishment is simply state sanctioned vigilantism.
I would argue that pro-death penalty advocates would feel differently if it was their relative on death row, watching wealthier people get lighter (if any) sentences on more egregious crimes, simply because they can afford a good lawyer.