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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Illinois Set to End Human Sacrifice

Execution chamber
It's hard for me to think of a policy I support less than the death penalty. The short take is that it's expensive, it doesn't work, and -- for me, the clincher -- it cannot be reversed. An innocent person put to death is a mistake that can't be rectified and this alone renders illogical the argument that killing people makes us safer. If your government can kill you, despite the fact that you've done nothing wrong, then you're most definitely not safer for it. The death penalty should be viewed the way we view other forms of human sacrifice -- a brutal and ineffective attempt to manipulate reality, founded only in a bloodthirsty superstition.

One state is poised to abandon this savage mumbo-jumbo; the Illinois legislature has sent a bill repealing that state's death penalty to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk. There's some question as to whether Quinn will sign it into law or not. There shouldn't be.

CBS News:

"We cannot afford to continue to have a death penalty in Illinois with the track record we have," Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, the main Senate sponsor, said Tuesday. "I believe only the state of Florida has had more people sent to death row for crimes that they did not commit. We ought to be embarrassed by that."

Illinois has removed 20 wrongly condemned people from death row since 1987. There's no evidence Illinois has executed an innocent person.

Human nature is evidence enough for me. Let people do something long enough and, sooner or later, we're going to screw it up. We're imperfect creatures. But just playing the odds here, you have to assume that Illinois has executed innocent people. The state's justice system was so fouled up that Republican then-Governor George Ryan instituted a moratorium on executions in 2000. According to Reuters, the moratorium followed "a series of revelations that people had been sent to Death Row who were later found to be innocent." Quinn has continued that moratorium.

What's happened during those ten years? In 2000, the state had 83,514 violent crimes [pdf] in a population of over 12 million. This works out to about 0.07% of all Illinois citizens being victims of violent crime that year. In 2007, Illinois had 533 violent crimes per 100,000 people [pdf] or 0.05%. Crime has fallen.

Still, you could argue that a moratorium isn't a ban. People are still sentenced to death, so -- should the moratorium ever be lifted -- those found guilty still risk ultimate penalty. The "deterrent" factor still remains, it's just more of a crap shoot than it was before. Logically speaking, we can't infer the effects of a repeal based on the results of a moratorium. They look like the same thing, but they aren't.

So, let's instead compare the state with the most executions -- Texas, with eighteen executions in 2008 -- with one of the states with the fewest -- my own state of Wisconsin, which has no death penalty. Since Wisconsin has none of the "deterrent" factor that Texas enjoys, we can safely assume that the Badger State is in near-anarchy as violent criminals rule our streets, blissfully undeterred by the fear of execution.

Not surprisingly, the opposite is true. Where Texas had a 2008 violent crime rate of 508 per hundred thousand, Wisconsin's rate was almost half that -- 277 per hundred thousand (both figures in this pdf). To make matters worse for hardcore law and order types, we aren't so gun-happy up here. Wisconsin has no concealed carry law. This is a double-whammy for people who argue that deterrence is the be-all and end-all of reducing crime.

Worse, Texas may have the worst record of executing the innocent. Where the headline "Did Texas execute an innocent man?" shows up in papers down there, there's absolutely no chance of a similar question being asked in my state. I'm not only safer from criminals up here, but I'm safer from my own government. Unless I'm accused of a crime in another state, I will never spend my last moments desperately proclaiming my innocence.

If Illinois Governor Quinn doesn't sign the repeal into law, he'll be guaranteeing that an innocent person be executed somewhere down the road. It's simply inevitable. And that won't do anything to keep that innocent person very safe, will it?


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