The Illinois State’s Attorneys Association is holding a news conference today in Springfield, to protest against a bill to abolish the death penalty in Illinois.
“It does provide a deterrent, and it does provide appropriate justice for victims in the right case, and I believe changing the law would have a substantial effect on our community,” Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato told Rockford’s WIFR-TV.
Illinois has not executed a prisoner since 1999. Gov. Pat Quinn says he supports capital punishment “when applied carefully and fairly,“ but he hasn’t lifted the moratorium imposed by George Ryan. And what’s happened on our streets during those dozen years that criminals haven’t had to fear the executioners’ needle? In 2010, the murder rate in Chicago dropped to its lowest level in 45 years. Last year, 435 people were murdered in the city. In the 1992, when the death penalty was still in use, we had over 900 murders. In Michigan, which has never had the death penalty, Detroit recorded its lowest murder rate since 1967, the year of the infamous riot.
Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis attributes the decrease to technology that allows the department to focus on high-crime areas, and more cooperation from witnesses.
“We’re slowly chipping away, just chip, chip, chip, chip at this code of silence and we’re starting to see some positive results,” Weis told WBEZ.
It’s more than that. Two decades ago, the crack wars were at their violent apogee. Longer prison sentences have prevented gang members from resuming their careers. And the population is older. The baby boomers, who began reaching their prime criminal years in the mid-1960s, are too old for that stuff these days.
It’s easy to understand why the state’s attorneys want to maintain the death penalty. It’s a great tool for extracting plea bargains. Plead guilty, and we’ll give you life. Go to trial, and we’ll go for death. If the death penalty is abolished, that threat will be gone.
But using the argument that the death penalty makes us safer is dishonest. For practical purposes, capital punishment in Illinois has been abolished by executive order. Let’s end the charade of a moratorium and take it off the books for good.