Monday, January 3, 2011

Because we prioritize victims

From the 12/31/10 Illinois Journal Star, this op-ed piece by Jennifer Bishop Jenkins and Kathleen Bishop Becker:

When our family members were murdered, issues like crime prevention, victims' rights, and the death penalty stopped being merely hypothetical. Since then, both of us have advocated for victims' rights and worked to build safer communities. It's because we prioritize victims and public safety that we support replacing the Illinois death penalty with life without parole sentences for convicted murderers.

Twenty innocent men have been released from Illinois' Death Row in the last decade.

In 2003, the Illinois General Assembly created a broad commission, comprised of state's attorneys, victims' family members and others to examine the reforms made to Illinois' flawed death penalty. For seven years the death penalty was carefully scrutinized. One of us, Jennifer, was asked to serve on this body as an advocate for victims' families. The commission and its subcommittees met over 80 times, held four public hearings around the state and solicited input from a broad cross-section of experts and everyday citizens. This thorough, transparent and democratic process generated thousands of pages of minutes and transcripts.

All of this extensive study and participation by the people of Illinois paid off. After a decade of scrutiny, reforms, proposals and legislative debates, we now believe that the death penalty can't be fixed. We note that Illinois has tried harder than any other state to make it work. But it can't work, and enough is enough. Those who claim we need more study simply don't like the truths revealed from our extensive review.

We still find innocent men on Death Row in our state. We still spend millions of dollars to keep this broken system limping along.

And the death penalty remains a harmful albatross for victims' families. In capital cases, family members are forced to endure years of trials and appeals that last at least twice as long as in non-capital cases, not to mention a long string of possible reversals because the system didn't get it right. The offender becomes a household name and the victim is forgotten. We are frequently denied legal finality. The state ends up spending millions, which are then not available to help victims or family members. We haven't executed anyone in over 10 years and won't anytime soon. Victims' families are the ones caught in limbo.

For these reasons, dozens of murder victims' family members presented a letter to the Illinois Legislature and testified before the House Judiciary Committee in November calling for passage of SB 3539, a bill to repeal the death penalty and use the millions saved for much-needed services for victims' families. We assure you, families like ours need these services much more desperately than we could ever need the death penalty.

The process has been nothing but fair and thorough. It's time for repeal.

Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, a leading advocate for victims and violence prevention since three members of her family were murdered, served on the Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Commission. Jennifer's family is from Pekin. Kathleen Bishop Becker, her cousin, lives in Bartonville and is co-owner of R & K Photography.

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