| Without parole
But I had to ask myself ó could I send another manís son to death under the deeply flawed system of capital punishment we have...' A troubled young man with a history of mental illness' Could I rely on the system of justice we have in Illinois not to make another horrible mistake' Could I rely on a fair sentencing'
In the United States of America, the overwhelming majority of those executed are psychotic, alcoholic, drug addicted or mentally unstable. They are frequently raised in an impoverished and abusive environment.
Seldom are people with money or prestige convicted of capital offenses, even more seldom are they executed. To quote Governor Brown, ďSociety has both the right and the moral duty to protect itself against its enemies. This natural and pre-historic axiom has never successfully been refuted. If by ordered death, society is really protected and our homes and institutions guarded, then even the most extreme of all penalties can be justified... Beyond its honour and incre- dibility, it has neither protected the innocent nor deterred the killers. Publicly sanctioned killing has cheapened human life and dignity without the redeeming grace which comes from justice meted out swiftly, evenly, humanely.Ē
At stake, throughout the clemency process, was whether some, all or none of these inmates on death row would have their sentences commuted from death to life without the possibility of parole. One of the things discussed with family members was life with parole [which] was seen as a life filled with perks and benefits.
Some inmates on death row donít want a sentence of life without parole. Danny Edwards wrote to me and told me not to do him any favours because he didnít want to face a prospect of a life in prison without parole. They will be confined in a cell that is about 5-feet-by-12 feet, usually double-bunked. Our prisons have no air-conditioning, except at our supermax facility where inmates are kept in their cell 23 hours a day. In summer months, temperatures in these prisons exceed one hundred degrees. It is a stark and dreary existence. They can think about their crimes. Life without parole has even, at times, been described by prosecutors as a fate worse than death.
Yesterday, I mentioned a lawsuit in Livingston County where a judge ruled that the state corrections department cannot force-feed two corrections inmates who are on a hunger strike. The judge ruled that suicide by hunger strike was not an irrational action by the inmates, given what their future holds.
Earlier this year, the US supreme court held that it is an unconstitutional, cruel and unusual punishment to execute the mentally retarded. It is now the law of the land. How many people have we already executed who were mentally retarded and are now dead and buried' Although we now know that they have been killed by the state unconstitutionally and illegally. Is that fair' Is that right'
This court decision was last spring. The general assembly failed to pass any measure defining what constitutes mental retardation. We are a rudderless ship because they failed to act.
This is even after the Illinois Supreme Court also told lawmakers that it is their job and it must be done. I started with this issue concerned about innocence. But once I studied, once I pondered what had become of our justice system, I came to care above all about fairness. Fairness is fundamental to the American system of justice and our way of life.