Today, The Illinois Senate followed up on the House's vote to abolish the death penalty. That means the bill is now on the Governor's desk. Whether he will sign it or not remains to be seen.
I realize the death penalty is a difficult topic for people. We tend to be emotional about it, and react emotionally rather than intellectually. While I understand that, I would much rather we could all separate ourselves from how we feel and focus on the cold, hard facts.
FACT: In Illinois, we have put a ridiculous number of innocent people on death row. For a short rundown on many of them, check out Northwestern's Center for Wrongful Convictions
All the reading in the world though does not get to you like shaking the hand of one of these people.
That happened to me in 2008 or so. Until then, I was a true believer in the death penalty. After that experience, I felt like a changed person. Since then, I have been more than a little annoying on the matter, because I felt like I knew something the rest of the world did not know, and if I could just tell enough people what was happening, they would know too.
It has been so disheartening to learn that people do not want to know what I know. They do not want to know that innocent people have been executed. They do not want to know that it could happen to them, just like it almost happened to all the people listed on the NWern site. They do not want to know of the many systemic problems that lead to horrible outcomes like the execution of innocent people.
I guess it is scary. Or it should be. But ignoring all of these things is not helping. It is not making it better, it is not stopping it from happening, and it is certainly not punishing the right people. What so many forget is that when you have the wrong man convicted, you do not have the right one--he is still out there, doing God knows what.
No matter what your thoughts are on the topic, please do not ignore the facts. Educate yourself on why it happens, and what we can do to change things. Abolishing the death penalty in Illinois is a great start, I pray it happens. But it is just that--a start. When that is done, we can focus on all of the other wrongfully convicted people who are NOT on death row, but serving some other sentence.
If you need another reason for supporting the repeal, think of the money we will save. Illinois is broke, and this is a fast way to save a lot of money. Death row is expensive to maintain, it is expensive to pay for the appeals, etc. Eliminate the practice all together and save millions. In Illinois, a murder conviction requires that every day of the sentence be served--and natural life sentences are not uncommon. A person sentenced to natural life will never be released, short of a reversal of his conviction. It is a safe alternative. If errors are made here, at least we do not have to go to the cemetery to tell the defendant we messed up.