|DEATH ROW SUPPORT PROJECT
Rachel Gross, Director
P.O. Box 600
Liberty Mills, IN 46946
DRSP News, Issue 10, February 2017
By Tara Collum
It is a time of optimism and hope of the possibility of the abolition of the American death penalty. In 2016, setbacks tempered that hope. Some troubling initiatives were voted in during the recent presidential election. The outlook isn't entirely bleak, and there is some good news that will hopefully lead to change and reform in the future.
There is a continued downward trend in executions and death penalty sentencing. In 2016 there were 18 executions. This is down from the previous year of 28. At its peak in 1999 there were 98 executions. Last year 49 people were sentenced compared with 82 in 2012.
Along with the above reduced numbers, national death penalty support was at its lowest in 50 years, with polls showing 40 percent of the nation against it.
Overzealous prosecution is a troubling factor in both the death penalty and the problematic mass incarceration rate. The change in administration is promising news as Hillsborough, Harris and Jefferson Counties are amongst the 2% of counties responsible for the majority of death row prisoners.
With widespread criticism of the soaring prison population in popular books like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy, and the Black Lives Matter movement, there is a positive national dialogue about prison reform, and a more critical viewpoint of the justice system, and of racial bias and prejudice amongst the police and within the court system.
National media attention has had a positive impact on individual cases. This year Rodricus Crawford had his death penalty case overturned, and is waiting to see if there will be a retrial. The young father was convicted of murdering his son, despite evidence of several experts that the child died of pneumonia. The prosecutor in the case, Dale Cox (of a tiny Louisiana parish of a quarter of a million whose office sent 16 prisoners to death row), after nationwide media scrutiny, including pieces in the New Yorker, decided not to run for re-election, and now no longer works for the DA's office.
Bryan Stevenson says of the death penalty, "The death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is, do we deserve to kill?"
Rachel Gross, Director
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