Monday, December 17, 2007

New Jersey Abolishes Death Penalty

New Jersey became the first state to abolish capital punishment since the U.S. Supreme Court authorized its use in 1976. After reviewing a report produced by a commission, elected officials concluded that the death penalty was a failed policy.

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If there is a poster child for failed policies, the death penalty is it. Several states have been inching toward abolition, but New Jersey has finally stepped up and made it official.

This decision was based on the findings and recommendations of the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission. The Commission's report was a comprehensive review of evidence about the death penalty process and the myriad of problems in its administration. The Commission examined seven issues and made a recommendation regarding the funding of services for victims' families. 12 of the 13 members recommended abolishing the death penalty in favor of life in prison without parole.

At public hearings a number of murder victims' families spoke out in favor of abolition, as did former and current criminal justice practitioners. The religious community also got into the act.

Obviously, not everyone is happy with this policy change. Several murder victims' family members spoke out in favor of retaining the death penalty. Several conservative law makers and a conservative law professor also tried to change the course of events.

The media also put it "two cents" in, from extensive coverage to spinning comments and research (see the survey results from Quinnipiac University).

The State of New Jersey, and it elected leaders, took a courageous step in abolishing a policy that has little empirical support, but has lots of ideological appeal. The United Nations is moving for it its attempt to curtail the use of capital punishment around the world. Other states and countries are sure to follow the example set by New Jersey and other countries. Who will be next?

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