New Jersey Abolished the Death Penalty

December 14, 2007 | | Comments Off on New Jersey Abolished the Death Penalty

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New Jersey abolished the death penalty this week – an historic moment to be sure, but also just one step in a long nationwide move away from capital punishment.

It was two years ago that the New Jersey state legislature put a moratorium on executions and appointed a commission to study the death penalty and make an official recommendation. In January of this year, the study recommended that capital punishment be abolished. The legislature just followed suit, and Governor Jon Corzine has already pledged to sign the bill.

New Jersey hasn’t actually executed anyone since 1963 – but this move is hardly symbolic. And in all that time with no executions, the state has spent about a quarter billion dollars on its death penalty, a fact that reveals a counterintuitive truth: the death penalty is far more expensive than life without parole. In its report, New Jersey Study Commission recommended that the money saved from scrapping capital punishment be redirected to services that support the families of murder victims.

The movement that brought New Jersey to this point is not unique to that state — it is actually happening in similar iterations across the country. The Montana Senate voted to abolish the death penalty earlier this year; the Nebraska unicameral legislature fell one vote short of abolition; Maryland came awful close too. And just last month, New York shut down its death row for good.

It’s not just religious and liberal coalitions behind this push for criminal justice reform – it’s the families of murder victims who are saying that the death penalty exacerbates the trauma of violent crime, and law enforcement officers testifying that the death penalty is broken and wholly incapable of making the public safer.

The death penalty issue has long been haunted by inertia – the sense that regardless of right or wrong, capital punishment is here to stay. That will change now.

Written by Greg Bloom, National Constituency Organizer at Equal Justice USA.

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