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Illinois' Death Row

Governor Pat Quinn followed in George Ryan's footsteps when he signed SB3539, commuting the sentences of the 15 men who had landed on death row since the mass-commutations to life without parole. Fourteen were transferred to maximum-security prisons and one to a medium-security prison with a mental health facility. What was once Illinois' death row at Pontiac has been refashioned into a transitional facility for prisoners deemed worthy of moving from the high-security Tamms Correctional Center to a less-restrictive prison elsewhere in the state.

The History of Illinois' Death Row

In the state of Illinois:

  • 12 people on death row have been executed.
  • A few people died while on death row.
  • 182 former death row inmates had their sentences commuted.
  • 20 on death row have been exonerated.

On January 10th, 2003, Governor George Ryan pardoned four men from Illinois' death row. That brought the total up to 17 men who had been sentenced to die for crimes they did not commit, exonerated after years of wrongful imprisonment. The next day, Governor Ryan, historically a proponent of capital punishment, commuted 167 death sentences to life without parole. When announcing the pardons, Ryan called the criminal justice system under which these men and women were sentenced to die "deeply flawed," "arbitrary," and "haunted by the demon of error." Ryan's example provided an invaluable precedent for Governor Pat Quinn's own decision to commute the sentences of the 15 with abolition 8 years later.

For more information about the death penalty in Illinois and other states,
please visit the Death Penalty Information Center.