Bringing Thought to Capital Punishment

By Rothschild, Becca | The Masthead, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Bringing Thought to Capital Punishment


Rothschild, Becca, The Masthead


Let's talk about death. The nation needs a full debate on the death penalty--not just on whether it is a moral solution but also whether and how it can be implemented fairly. Illinois, which famously cleared out Death Row and put a moratorium on executions two years ago, would be a fitting place to start.

But Dick Devine, Cook County state's attorney, said calls for a comprehensive and vigorous discussion of the issue have been met with "a massive outpouring of silence"

Politicians, Devine told an NCEW convention audience, have found a safe harbor in the moratorium that allows them to say they're for the death penalty (i.e., tough on crime) but against using it unless "the world is perfect"

Meanwhile victims are left in limbo. The death penalty remains on the books--and indeed has been imposed on a handful of criminals since the moratorium was put in place--but it isn't carried out. Loved ones don't know if it ever will be, so their cases are never over.

Devine, who favors limited use of the death penalty, said he can live with policy-makers deciding to scrap the ultimate form of punishment. But it's time, he said, to decide whether to make it a real part of the criminal justice system or remove the fallacy that we'll have it but not use it.

"It's wrong for victims, it's wrong for families, and it's wrong for the legal system" Devine said during a panel on "Crime and Punishment in the 21st Century."

Most of the discussion--moderated by Cornelia Grumman, the Chicago Tribune editorial writer who won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for editorials advocating reform of the system--focused on the death penalty. But it also more broadly addressed limiting flaws in the criminal justice system that lead to wrong convictions. …

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