Monday, June 3, 2019

If New Hampshire can abolish the death penalty, could Pennsylvania be far behind?

According to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, the odds are long -- but they're not impossible.
For starters, an abolition bill making the rounds of the Republican-controlled state House is being co-sponsored by one of the chamber's most progressive members, Democratic Rep. Chris Rabb, of Philadelphia, and one of its most conservative, Rep. Frank Ryan, of Lebanon County.
And Ryan's explanation of his support sounds a whole lot like the one offered by New Hampshire's French.
"I’m pro-life, which means conception to natural death,” he said, framing his opposition to the death penalty as both practical and moral. “Capital punishment isn’t natural death to me.”
And it's not like Ryan's alone.
As we reported last month, Republicans focused on both the bottom-line cost of capital punishment, and its moral implications, are now stepping up to support its abolition. 
According to a group calling itself Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, Republican lawmakers in 10 more states — Georgia, Louisiana, Kansas, Wyoming, Kentucky, Montana, Missouri, Colorado, New Hampshire and Washington State — are sponsoring death penalty repeal bills.
And according to a 2017 study by the conservative anti-death penalty group, Republican sponsors of death penalty abolition proposals doubled between 2013 and 2016, going from 20 sponsors to 40 sponsors. 
And before our conservative readers go all, “Well these are only RINOs in blue or purple states,” consider this: According to the study, “the data show that Republicans in red states are taking on even more leadership than those in blue states.”
“Among the states where Republicans sponsored death penalty repeal bills, more than 40 percent of them (10 states) were red states,” the report reads. “Of the total number of Republican sponsorships of death penalty repeal bills, more than 67 percent were in red states (143 red state sponsorships out of 211 total Republican sponsorships).”
And if there's  a state that's ripe for abolition, it's Pennsylvania.
Largely because of reversals and resentencings, Pennsylvania’s death row population has fallen over the last 16 years, going from 247 inmates in April 2002 to the current 142 inmates, according to data compiled by the Death Row Information Center.
In all, 170 Pennsylvania death-row prisoners have seen their convictions or death sentences overturned in state or federal post-conviction proceedings. The commonwealth’s state courts have reversed an additional 100 death sentences on direct appeal, according to Death Penalty Information Center data. More than 97 percent of the state’s death row inmates have been resentenced to life or less, or acquitted.
And as we've reported before, Pennsylvania has carried out just three executions in the nearly half-century since the U.S. Supreme Court again declared the death penalty constitutional, at a combined cost to the taxpayers of $816 million.
In a memo seeking sponsors for his repeal bill, Rabb pointed to an Urban Institute Study of Maryland’s death penalty that concluded that a capital case costs $2 million more than a non-capital case.
“We’re approaching budget season, where we’re pinching pennies,” Rabb told us in April, arguing the state could find far better ways to use the money it spends feeding and housing death row inmates and fighting their appeals. “No study shows it’s a deterrent. Plenty of studies show that it is racist.”
We're nearly at 50 percent of states that have abolished capital punishment. Neighboring New Jersey is one of them.
While there's still some distance to go, Pennsylvania lawmakers justifiably take a lot of pride in the strides the state has made on criminal justice reform.
Abolishing capital punishment would be a quantum leap. Let's see if they're up for it.
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