Letter Writing

The time is always right to make your voice heard. Hand-written letters are a powerful way to ask legislators to make the changes necessary to address this public policy failure. You can write to your state legislator in Tennessee to ask for death penalty repeal. If you don’t know who your legislators are, go to http://www.capitol.tn.gov/ and enter your address in the bottom right corner. Please refer to the sample letter below as a model for your own letter.

If you would like to hold a letter-writing campaign at your community of faith, university, high school or civic club, TADP can help! Please contact us if  you would like assistance and advice with this.

Sample Letter for State Legislators on Repeal

Today’s date

Representative or Senator (your representative/senator’s name here)


City, TN   Zip

Dear Representative (or Dear Senator) ___________,

As your constituent, I am deeply concerned about the use of the death penalty system in Tennessee. It is ineffective, inefficient, costly to taxpayers, does not make us safer, and continues to risk executing an innocent person.

Because of the necessarily long and complicated legal process, the system is hard on murder victims’ family members while alternative sentences like life without parole would at least provide them with legal finality more swiftly.

For all these reasons, I believe Tennessee should repeal the death penalty and use the savings to support victims’ families.

I would like to hear from you about whether you would support death penalty repeal legislation in Tennessee.

Thank you for your service to Tennessee.


(Signature here)



Additionally, you can make your voice heard by writing a letter to the editor in response to an article in a newspaper. Please read these guidelines carefully before submitting your letter.

Letters to the editor take minimal work but have a big impact. I strongly encourage you to add your voice to the growing movement as a way to expose the truth about capital punishment in America. Help dynamite the myth that the death penalty is necessary and effective.—Nancy Oliveira


Why Your Letter to the Editor (LTE) is Important

  • Support for the death penalty is a mile wide and an inch deep. Once people learn even a few facts about the death penalty system, they often begin to question its effectiveness or appropriateness.
  • Thousands of people read the newspaper daily and LTEs are the most widely read section of the paper.
  • LTEs demonstrate to a newspaper that there is interest in a particular subject. Papers are inclined to run more stories on subjects that receive more attention from readers.
  • Newspapers print letters according to the volume received. Even if your letter isn’t published, your letter often helps someone else’s letter get published.
  • Your letter provides useful talking points to people who share your perspective.

How to Write a Letter with a Good Chance of getting published

  • Use email if possible.
  • Respond to a specific article or editorial in the paper. Be timely. Write within a day or two of the article’s publication.
  • Include the title of the article and date of publication in the subject-line of the email.
  • Include your name, address, and phone number. Newspapers may call you to confirm your identity; but, they will not print your contact info.
  • Only send your letter to one paper at a time. Most newspapers insist on exclusivity.
  • Focus on making one point. Be brief and succinct.
  • Be wise and thoughtful. Anger can turn off readers.
  • Make sure your facts are accurate. Please email or call the state office if you need to fact check.

Three Questions to Ask before submitting a letter to the editor

  • Is my letter as brief as possible? (less than 200 words, better yet, less than 100 words?)
  • Is my point clear?
  • Is my letter timely and relevant to an article just printed?

 Examples of letters to the Editor

How does the issue affect our everyday lives?

Doesn’t Add Up (San Francisco Chronicle, March 18, 2008)

Can someone please explain to me why our teachers are getting pink slips and San Quentin gets a new death chamber? Our death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for life.

Use metaphors and similes that are easy to understand and relatable

Throw of the yoke (San Francisco Chronicle, November 21, 2007)

Re “Top state courts’ ides on Death Row appeals,” (Nov. 20): Has it occurred to anyone that every Western democracy has rid themselves of the death penalty because there is no way to make it work fairly, economically, and efficiently? Instead of a ballot initiative to amend the CA state constitution, as the CA Supreme Court has proposed, and infusing more taxpayer money into the exorbitantly expensive death penalty machine, why don’t we join the rest of the evolved word and free ourselves of this costly yoke of trying to make it work?

Share personal stories of learning, change, and grassroots involvement.

(Tennessean) After reading Bob Clement’s story about former Governor Frank Clement’s struggle with the death penalty, I have to ask why a Governor would make such a politically risky move as commuting all death sentences to life? The answer is not complicated. It was the right thing to do. As the Governor knew, the system is fraught with uncertainty and injustice. Certainly there are guilty people on death row, but there are also the innocent. If an innocent person is put to death, we are responsible. Knowing the flaws in the system as I do after practicing law for 26 years, I do not want that responsibility. It is time to repeal the death penalty and seek alternatives such as life imprisonment without parole.

Offer practical solutions

Treat Tennesseans with Mental Illness; Don’t Execute Them (Tennessean, October 2011)

I was troubled by the statistics provided by Judge Daniel Eisenstein in Sunday’s Tennessee Voices on the rising numbers of those with mental illness in the court system. He also noted that over the past few years, those with severe mental illness were removed from TennCare coverage and that in 2009, the number of inpatient beds at all Tennessee Mental Health Institutes decreased by 19%. At the same time, the state will spend millions of dollars to execute these individuals if, during a psychotic episode, they commit a violent crime. Wouldn’t our resources be better spent treating those with severe mental illness before a crime is committed instead of executing them once a life has already been lost?