Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Today, with the signature of Governor Pat Quinn, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty, and the third state to do it in four years. The Governor also commuted the sentences of the 15 men currently residing on Illinois’ death row. In addition to Governor Quinn, State Senator Kwame Raoul and State Representative Karen Yarbrough were key players in making death penalty abolition a reality in Illinois. Please take a moment to thank them for their leadership.
No state has made a greater effort to “fix” their broken death penalty than Illinois. A ten year moratorium on executions was established in January 2000, and since then various commissions and studies have attempted to grapple with the challenge of imposing an irreversible punishment in an error-prone system. After over a decade of trying, Illinois politicians came to the conclusion that it simply cannot be done – that capital punishment in Illinois is beyond repair. The system will always be prone to error, and the punishment of death will always be irreversible.
So they did the right thing, and indeed the only logical thing. They abolished the death penalty. Folks in other states where the flaws and shortcomings of capital punishment have become painfully clear should look to this example. What was true in Illinois is equally true in Connecticut, Maryland, Montana, or for that matter any other state that still keeps the death penalty on its books. The danger of executing the innocent can never be eliminated, the drain on the treasury will always divert resources from proven crime prevention measures, and the toll on the families of victims as they are dragged through a grueling process will always be both severe and completely unnecessary.
The Illinois experience has shown that, for both practical and moral reasons, the death penalty does not work. It is an irreversible punishment in an imperfect world, and a cruel and degrading punishment in a world where we should be striving to respect and promote human dignity. By rejecting the death penalty, Illinois has liberated itself from this failed experiment, and has scored a major victory for human rights.
UPDATE: Please call Govenor Quinn’s office and ask that he sign the death penalty abolition bill: 312.814.2121
This afternoon the Illinois Senate joined the Illinois House or Representatives in voting to abolish the death penalty. The vote was 32 in favor, 25 against, with 2 abstentions. If Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill into law, Illinois will become the 16th state in the USA to ban capital punishment, and the 3rd in the last 4 years.
And more states may be on the way, with hot debates on death penalty abolition expected in states as diverse as Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland and Montana.
These debates and votes reflect the growing public disillusionment with (and in more and more cases rejection of) capital punishment, with its errors and biases, its ineffectiveness, and its dubious morality.
Whether Governor Quinn in Illinois will sign or veto this bill remains to be seen. Stay tuned!
After 10 years of study and the exonerations of 20 innocent men sentenced to death, Illinois is pushing to join the ranks of New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico by getting rid of this internationally-condemned system once and for all. Illinois State Representative Karen Yarbrough will introduce a new abolition bill in the veto session THIS WEEK which will repeal the death penalty in Illinois once and for all. On November 16th, Illinoisian Amnesty International members and other abolition supporters will gather at the State Capitol Building in Springfield to demand that state-legislators vote YES for repeal.
As Amnesty members in Illinois scramble to meet with legislators, turn votes, fill buses, and take the final steps for repeal, there is something YOU can do from your respective states to secure abolition in Illinois …
Participate in our Virtual Lobby Day on Wednesday November 17th: Call newly-re-elected Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. If you’re from an abolitionist state, tell the Governor how your state is getting by just fine without the death penalty. If you hail from a death penalty state, touch on how Illinois has a chance to be a leader in the abolition movement for high-use states, making it possible for other states like your own to move towards repeal.
Governor Pat Quinn
Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
Illinois is closer than it’s ever been to repeal, but leadership needs pressure from other states to make this monumental step in human rights a reality.
Whether you’re in a state like Michigan or Wisconsin that has functioned without capital punishment for over a century, or a state like Ohio or Florida with a long road ahead, you have an opportunity to show your solidarity as Illinois approaches this critical moment in its human rights history. As Amnesty International members, we have heard, and ourselves quoted, Martin Luther King Jr.’s words time and time again: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must recognize our interdependency and work together, across state lines, to secure abolition of the death penalty, state by state, with the ultimate goal of abolition of state-sponsored killing everywhere in the USA.