The Wall Is Beginning to Crumble

Yesterday, abolitionists across this country and the world, celebrated the 1 year anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in New Jersey. On December 17, 2007, New Jersey became the only state to abolish the death penalty legislatively and the first to abolish the death penalty since 1965. Because of the hard work and dedication of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty led by Celeste Fitzgerald as well as the national abolitionists, legislators, and Governor Jon Corzine, New Jersey has demonstrated that the promises of the death penalty system are hollow and that alternatives are better for murder victims’ families, for law enforcement, for public safety, and for citizens who care about fairness and accuracy.

And now, Maryland is one step closer to abolition as well with the recommendation of repeal by the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. During its study, the Maryland Commission found a number of troubling factors such as

  • Racial disparities within the system
  • Jurisdictional disparities within the system
  • Costs which are substantially higher than a system with life without parole as the maximum sentence
  • Effects of capital cases are more detrimental to victims’ families than the effects of life without parole
  • Despite the advance of forensic science and DNA testing, the risk of executing an innocent person still exists
  • No persuasive evidence that the death penalty deters crime

These realities have been highlighted by the abolitionist community for years, and I applaud the Commission for weighing the evidence and voting for repeal. The facts simply do not support the continuation of this broken system.

What I also find to be interesting about the findings of the Maryland Commission is that they are practically identical to the testimony given in Tennessee. However, in Tennessee, only a few reforms are being recommended. Why? How can two states with very similar findings make such different recommendations?

Hopefully, the Tennessee Committee will issue a full report in January highlighting all of its findings. However, anyone can go back and watch all of the hearings which can be linked from our website by clicking on the legislation tab. I assure you that in all the hours of testimony, you will hear the exact same evidence indicting the Tennessee system as was heard in Maryland.

With Tennessee’s horrific budget shortfall and continued problems with health care and education, I find it terribly irresponsible for the state not to take a hard look at scrapping the current death penalty system. If citizens truly understood the facts, I strongly believe a majority would favor abolition. Though politicians fear a backlash from such a move, it did not happen in New Jersey. A majority of Tennesseans polled in 2007 already acknowledge that the death penalty system here has big problems, and I believe, if given the data, a majority would make an informed decision in favor of abolition.

As we move into 2009 with a new legislature and a dire economic landscape, I hope that Tennesseans will be more willing to voice their concerns to the legislature and support abolition. Can you imagine if Tennessee became the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty? What would that say about our commitment to fairness, to fiscal responsibility, and to providing victims’ families with a swift and sure sentence like life without parole. I hope that we can continue to put our emotions aside, and just look at the facts. The wall of the death penalty is crumbling. It is just a matter of time.

Read the Maryland Commission’s report here

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