Gallup has released its latest measure of public opinion regarding support or opposition to the use of the death penalty. While sixty-three percent of the public expresses support, that support has rapidly eroded over the last twenty years.
“This movement away from the death penalty is a national trend,” said Rev. Patrick Delahanty, who chairs the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. “That six states in the past seven years have abandoned its use and replaced it with a sentence of life in prison without parole is evidence of that trend.” He noted that since 2010 in Kentucky, jurors and judges have rejected the death penalty in every case in which it was sought, but one.
At a joint Interim Judiciary Committee meeting in August, Eastern Kentucky University Dean Allen Ault told lawmakers it would be great if Kentucky banned executions. Ault described for lawmakers the impact executing other human beings had on him and others with whom he worked as Commissioner of Corrections in Georgia.
The erosion of support over these two decades is due to increased concern about executing the innocent. More than 140 wrongfully convicted persons have been released from state death rows, including Larry Osborne released from Kentucky’s death row at Eddyville.
Others are concerned about the death penalty’s high cost. Having this process in place drains resources from state budgets that could easily be used to meet other needs.
Writing for Gallup, Jeffrey Jones says, “Democrats’ opinions have also shifted markedly on the death penalty vs. life imprisonment question. Two decades ago, Democrats preferred the death penalty by a wide margin, but they now prefer life imprisonment by nearly the same margin. Independents’ and Republicans’ views have changed less, although both show increases in support for life imprisonment.”
The findings of the last poll of Kentuckians conducted by the University of Kentucky Survey Center showed that when asked to select the most appropriate punishment for those convicted of aggravated murder – and given the five choices available to Kentucky jurors – sixty-seven percent selected sentences other than death. In fact, since 1997 support for alternatives to the death penalty in Kentucky has steadily increase from thirty-eight percent to over sixty-seven percent in 2006.
What Kentucky jurors are doing mirror these survey results according to Delahanty. “Apparently Kentucky juries believe we can keep society safe and achieve justice by locking up the most dangerous offenders for life,” he said. “Kentucky lawmakers are becoming more and more aware this is a costly process that risks executing the innocent and a less costly and effective alternative is available. Repeal of this law can fix a broken system permanently.”