Today marks the one year anniversary of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signing legislation to repeal that state’s death penalty. With the stroke of a pen, Illinois became the fourth state to end its use of the death penalty in just four years, joining New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico.
In a recent opinion editorial, Illinois assistant public defender Charles W. Hoffman wrote, “The rightness of that decision is more clear than ever. Violent crime rates have not climbed. The public is no less safe. And the pursuit of justice has been served, not undermined.”
Between 1977 –when Illinois reinstated capital punishment– and 1999, 20 innocent men who had been sentenced to death were exonerated when evidence of their wrongful convictions emerged. In 2000, former Illinois Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on the death penalty in an effort to avoid having his state execute an innocent person and to allow time for study commissions to investigate the state’s capital punishment system. Over a decade later, it was finally concluded that the death penalty is broken beyond repair and Governor Quinn eradicated it.
The movement toward repeal continues as more and more people realize the unfairness, risk of innocence, and high costs of the death penalty. New death sentences and executions are at 40 year lows, public support for the death penalty has waned, and states like Maryland and Connecticut are close to repeal. Oregon’s governor has also halted all executions.
As we reflect on the victory in Illinois, let us recommit our efforts to ensuring that the remaining death penalty states will also realize a more efficient and effective justice system.
(Photo: Abolitionists watch IL Governor Pat Quinn sign the bill to repeal the death penalty in Illinois. Courtesy of Equal Justice USA)
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