Nearly a decade ago, Kentuckians learned that the death penalty here is broken beyond repair.
That conclusion came from Kentucky legal scholars and jurists after two years of study.
The assessment team, which included two former Kentucky State Supreme Court justices, concluded in 2011 that the death penalty system in Kentucky “does not sufficiently protect the innocent, convict the guilty and ensure the fair and efficient enforcement of criminal laws.”
They recommended at the time that the governor suspend the system.
Yet here we are, nearly 10 years later and lawmakers are considering whether we should execute people with a serious mental illness.
Why are we debating how to apply a broken system? Why are we ignoring the most basic ways this system is broken?
The experts — a panel of impartial experts — have told us we can’t count on it. Our system does not guarantee:
- The protection of innocent people.
- The conviction of the guilty.
- The law is enforced properly.
What good is a system like that?
It’s no good at all.
In the last 43 years, Kentucky sentenced 78 people to death. Yet 52 of those sentences were overturned. That’s 67 percent.
Kentucky public defenders highlighted this statistic in a recent press release. The release said reform is “dangerously overdue.”
A system with that rate of error isn’t a justice system, it’s a system of injustice.
And why are we willing to kill people amid such gross imperfection?
Actually, most Kentuckians aren’t willing.
A 2016 poll conducted by the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center found that when Kentuckians understand the capital punishment system in Kentucky, they don’t support it.
The poll provided information about the system in Kentucky before asking its questions.
After learning that Kentucky’s death penalty has serious flaws and that a panel of experts recommended the governor suspend it, three-quarters of respondents said they would support its suspension.
The poll also noted that at least 155 people nationwide at the time had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die for crimes they didn’t commit. That’s up to 164 now.
Understandably, more than 70 percent of respondents agreed that the death penalty risks executing an innocent person.
Four years later, the Kentucky General Assembly wonders whether people with a mental illness should be excluded from this flawed system.
It’s proposed in Senate Bill 154 and its companion House Bill 237. The bills, which have bipartisan support, demand the support of anyone who values justice.
During Lent, consider the crucifixion, the paschal mystery and how they come to bear on Kentucky’s system of capital punishment.
Noting that Lent is a “favorable” time for conversion,” Pope Francis said in his Lenten Message, “Putting the paschal mystery at the center of our lives means feeling compassion towards the wounds of the crucified Christ present in the many innocent victims” of violence in the world.
It’s long-past time to abolish the death penalty. Let’s not pass up an opportunity for a step in the right direction.
To contact lawmakers about abolishing the death penalty for those diagnosed with a serious mental illness, call 800-372-7181. Urge lawmakers to support SB 154 and HB 237.