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How We Repealed the Death Penalty

The Death Penalty in Illinois

Just a few months ago, Illinois found itself at a crossroads on the death penalty. Executions had been on hold for a decade, leaving Illinois with a death penalty in name only. The Capital Reform Study Committee released its final report in November of 2010, ultimately declaring that our death penalty system could not guarantee that an innocent person would not be executed, that it truly was too flawed to fix. This culmination of years of study solidified it: it was time to repeal the death penalty in Illinois.

...and here's why:

The death penalty risks executing the innocent.
There have been 20 men exonerated from Illinois’ death row after evidence of their innocence emerged, many after serving decades. This is the second highest exoneration rate in the nation. We can not guarantee that our death penalty system will not make a fatal mistake and take an innocent life.

The death penalty hurts, not helps, murder victims’ families.
We’ve learned from working with murder victims’ families that the death penalty process can cause more harm than good. The longer trial process, and lengthy wait between sentencing and execution subjects murder victims’ families to a long and torturous legal process. If we speed this up, we exacerbate the risk of executing an innocent person. All this time and energy spent on the death penalty would be better invested in programs and services that help all victims’ families.

The death penalty is far more expensive than alternatives.
Since 2003 we’ve spent over $100 million on the Capital Litigation Trust Fund, and this represents only a portion of the costs associated with maintaining the death penalty. And for what? No one has been executed in that time. Every cost study across the nation has shown that the death penalty is far more expensive than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. These resources would be better spent on funding for victims’ services and law enforcement.

We found a solution.

The Illinois State Legislature and Governor Pat Quinn recognized these irreparable flaws in the system and repealed the death penalty in Illinois. We join the ranks of New Jersey, New Mexico and New York, becoming the 16th state without the death penalty and the fourth to abolish it in recent years.

On July 1st, 2011, Illinois became a state which no longer risks executing the innocent. Murder victim family members will no longer have to endure the torturous limbo of the moratorium, waiting decades for closure that may never come. And our tax dollars can finally go where they are truly
needed: to law enforcement training and services for murder victims' families.

Our work is not over

Amidst the celebration we must not lose sight of the fact that the threat of reinstatement is a real one. In the regular session this past spring, our opposition introduced five bills to bring back Illinois’ death penalty. Three of those five passed through committee. Through strategic lobbying and organizing efforts, ICADP was able to stop these bills from being called, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see new reinstatement bills as soon as next session. We must remain vigilant in order to preserve ICADP's success.

See the copy of our fact sheet against one of the five regular session reinstatement bills here: http://icadp.org/sites/default/files/VOTENO.doc

Please contact Jeremy Schroeder at (312) 213-4142 to co-sponsor or for any questions.

Illinois’ Death Penalty: Beyond Repair

It’s become clear in 10 years of a moratorium that Illinois’ death penalty system is still broken and
cannot be fixed.  The death penalty is a public policy that risks executing the innocent, fails to meet the
needs of murder victims’ families, and costs millions of dollars more than alternatives. 

Not a Deterrent:

  • In the last twenty years, states with the death penalty have a higher murder rate than states that do not.
  • In 2009, 88% of the Nation’s top criminologists said the death penalty did nothing to deter violent crime.
  • Here in Illinois, Cook County, the county with the highest murder rate, has also sent the most people to death row with no apparent effect on homicides.

More Expensive than Alternatives:

  • Study after study has shown that capital cases – with more lawyers, more witnesses, more experts, a longer jury selection process, more pre-trial motions, and an entirely separate trial for sentencing – is far more expensive than life imprisonment without parole.
  • Since 2003, Illinois has spent well over $100 million on the Capital Litigation Trust Fund, this represents only a portion of the costs associated with maintaining our death penalty.

Risks Executing the Innocent:

  • Across the country, 139 men have been released from death row due to evidence of their innocence.
  • In Illinois, we have sentenced 20 men to death for crimes they did not commit. This is the second highest error rate in the country.

A Distraction from the Real Needs of Murder Victims’ Families:

  • While Illinois spends millions of dollars every year retaining the death penalty, essential services for survivors of homicide are underfunded.
  • To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure. The death penalty is neither. Capital punishment prolongs pain for victims’ families, dragging them through an agonizing and lengthy process. A life sentence, on the other hand, begins as soon as victims’ families leave the courtroom and is served anonymously, outside the spotlight of the news cameras.
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