In the Spotlight: Repealing death penalty is being smart on crime

Illinois’ Legislature has passed Senate Bill 3539 to not only repeal the state’s broken death penalty but also to promote community safety by using the funds set aside for the Capital Litigation Trust Fund to provide assistance to victims’ families and training for law enforcement officials.

Research has long shown that the death penalty is expensive and ineffective in enforcing our most severe criminal justice laws. Studies have time and again demonstrated that the death penalty is no better a crime deterrent than long prison sentences. In fact, states without the death penalty have lower crime rates.

Furthermore, putting someone on Death Row costs a lot more than keeping them in prison for life. While it can cost up to $3 million per death penalty case, from arrest to execution, a life sentence averages roughly $500,000 to $750,000. Thus, by keeping the death penalty on the books Illinois would have been wasting precious resources that could be put to better use.

One of the sectors that has suffered as a result of the economic crisis is law enforcement. In 2010, jurisdictions across the state downsized their police departments in order to meet budget restrictions. Last year, Peoria laid off more than 30 police officers, while the state battled with a budget that put the jobs of some 400 state troopers at risk.

Money saved by eliminating the death penalty could be used to boost law enforcement. They are first responders with the proven ability to deter crimes.

The death penalty also is both economically and racially discriminatory in its application. Blacks and whites are murder victims at almost equal rates, but since 1977, 80 percent of those executed in the U.S. were convicted of killing a white person. Since 1976, people of color have comprised roughly 43 percent of those put to death, while they only make up 25 percent of the population. African Americans in particular make up 43 percent of Death Row inmates, while only 13 percent of the population.

Illinois has an established history of making the right and conscionable decision in regard to this matter. In 2003, Gov. Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 inmates because of the problems cited above and the compelling reality that it is virtually impossible to prevent the killing of innocent people. In fact, nationally 138 innocent people have been released from Death Row — some just moments before their execution — since the reinstatement of the death penalty.

In the end repealing Illinois’ death penalty is about being smart on crime and doing what is right for the residents of the great state of Illinois.


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