Abolish the death penalty now
Abolish the death penalty now

Edi­tor’s Note: The fol­low­ing is the text of NPI founder Andrew Vil­leneu­ve’s tes­ti­mo­ny in sup­port of Sen­ate Bill 5339, prime spon­sored by Sen­a­tor Reuven Car­lyle. This bill would end the death penal­ty once and for all in Wash­ing­ton State.

Chair Ped­er­sen and Mem­bers of the Committee:

Thank you for hear­ing Sen­ate Bill 5339 this morning.

On behalf of the team at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, who work tire­less­ly to raise our region and coun­try’s qual­i­ty of life through insight­ful research and imag­i­na­tive advo­ca­cy, I urge you to advance this vital leg­is­la­tion with a “do pass” rec­om­men­da­tion so that it can be con­sid­ered by the full State Senate.

Last year’s his­toric vote to repeal the death penal­ty was a water­shed moment for the Sen­ate. Although the bill did not receive a vote on the floor of the State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, it nev­er­the­less advanced the cause of equi­table jus­tice and human rights in Wash­ing­ton. Fol­low­ing the Sen­ate’s his­toric vote, our team decid­ed to gauge pub­lic sup­port for life in prison alter­na­tives to the death penal­ty after the 2018 Leg­isla­tive Ses­sion adjourned Sine Die. In May of 2018, we went into the field with our sur­vey, which asked the fol­low­ing question:

Of the fol­low­ing list of choic­es, which pun­ish­ment do you pre­fer for peo­ple con­vict­ed of mur­der: life in prison with NO pos­si­bil­i­ty of parole, life in prison with NO pos­si­bil­i­ty of parole and a require­ment to work in prison and pay resti­tu­tion to the vic­tims, life in prison with a pos­si­bil­i­ty of parole after at least forty years, or the death penalty?

The answers were as follows:

  • Pre­fer Life In Prison… (69% total) 
    • … With No Pos­si­bil­i­ty Of Parole: 10%
    • … With No Pos­si­bil­i­ty Of Parole And A Require­ment To Work in Prison And Pay Resti­tu­tion To The Vic­tims: 46%
    • … With A Pos­si­bil­i­ty Of Parole After At Least Forty Years: 13%
  • Pre­fer The Death Penal­ty: 24%
  • Not Sure: 8%
Time for abolition in Washington State
Time for abo­li­tion in Wash­ing­ton State: End the death penalty

Our sur­vey of six hun­dred and sev­en­ty-five like­ly 2018 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field May 22nd-23rd, 2018. The sur­vey used a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines and online inter­views of cell phone only respon­dents. The poll was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for NPI, and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.8% at the 95% con­fi­dence level.

What we found most strik­ing about the respons­es were that not a sin­gle sub­sam­ple with­in the sur­vey favored the death penal­ty… not even Don­ald Trump vot­ers. Trump vot­ers favor life in prison by the slimmest of mar­gins: 48% of them picked one of the three alter­na­tives, while 46% want to keep the death penalty.

What this tells us is that there is broad agree­ment across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum for get­ting rid of the prac­tice of putting peo­ple con­vict­ed of mur­der to death. Wash­ing­to­ni­ans increas­ing­ly agree: there is no humane way to kill some­one. Life in prison with­out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of parole should replace the death penalty.

There are many, many excel­lent rea­sons to abol­ish the death penal­ty, but per­haps the best one of all is that judges and juries are human. They make mis­takes. Con­se­quent­ly, our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem can­not guar­an­tee that an inno­cent per­son will nev­er be sen­tenced to death for a crime of murder.

On that basis alone, we should abol­ish the death penalty.

A per­son sen­tenced to life in prison can be exon­er­at­ed for a crime they did not com­mit, and freed from prison. The Inno­cence Project has helped free dozens of wrong­ly con­vict­ed peo­ple since its incep­tion in 1992.

A per­son killed by the state, on the oth­er hand, can­not be brought back. Once some­one has been killed, they’re gone. If we tru­ly val­ue life, lib­er­ty, and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness, then we need to end the death penalty.

Our polling clear­ly shows that Wash­ing­to­ni­ans of all polit­i­cal per­sua­sions are ready.

Last autumn, our Supreme Court con­vert­ed all exist­ing death sen­tences to life impris­on­ment when it found our exist­ing death penal­ty statute uncon­sti­tu­tion­al.

Now the Leg­is­la­ture has an oppor­tu­ni­ty to fin­ish the work that needs to be done. Let’s get this dis­crim­i­na­to­ry and unjust statute off our books, and let the world com­mu­ni­ty know that here in Wash­ing­ton, we val­ue human rights.

Thank you.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “Abolition now! NPI urges Senate Law & Justice Committee to end the death penalty”

  1. I real­ly began to ques­tion the death penal­ty when the death penal­ty was tak­en off the table in the OJ tri­al. It seems that as a celebri­ty, his life was con­sid­ered more valu­able. It is not up to the courts or judges to put val­ue on the life of defen­dants or victims.

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