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.