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The State of the Union

8 June 2008

You all know I have a few obsessions.   (If you’re in any doubt, see any of my posts about World Youth Day! – And my husband thinks I’m obsessed with knitting)

Another of my ‘obsessions’ is the penal justice system and particularly the death penalty.  This one goes back a very long way.  It was I think 1964 when I sat in the Visitors Gallery in the House of Lords to see the abolition of the death penalty in Britain.  I was too young to be in there but dressed myself up and passed muster.

In 1979 I became a volunteer with the Probation Service visiting life prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs prison in London.  All those I visited over the years were convicted murderers.

And I’ve sent my fair share of emails, letters and faxes to Governments round the world to try to stop executions taking place.  When George W was Governor of Texas, I think I knew his fax number by heart.

You may have heard that America had a moratorium on executions for a while as the Supreme Court was deciding whether killing people by lethal injection was cruel, painful and inhumane.  They decided it was just dandy, so now the executions have begun again in earnest. 

On 10th June, Percy Walton will be executed in Virginia and on 17th June, Charles Hood will suffer the same fate in Texas.  Percy Walton has been on death row for 11 years and Charles Hood for 18.  Both have severe mental disabilities.

Only China, Iran and Saudi Arabia execute more people than the USA.  128 countries around the world no longer execute ANYONE. Until about 4 years ago, America executed murderers who had committed their crimes while minors, which put them in very unsavoury company (Yemen for one). 

And does this mass slaughter help the people of the USA one iota?  All studies show that it doesn’t make a jot of difference to the murder rates.  In fact, American States that don’t have the death penalty have no more (and sometimes fewer) murders.  It just dehumanises the people we ask to do this in our name, and there is a very great risk that innocent people are being put to death.  In the last few years 120 people on death row have been exonerated.  That’s a lot of people we could have killed “by mistake”. 

Can the people of America sleep more soundly in their beds at night as a result of these executions?  Or as a result of another fact I turned up recently – that with 5% of the world’s population, the USA has 25% of the world’s prisoners.  Apparently neither executions nor mass imprisonment has slowed down their crime rates.  Isn’t it about time they (and the rest of the world for that matter) looked again at their policies?   

I would ask you to go to the NCADP website for the facts and figures on executions in the United States, and contact details if you’d like to object to these latest executions.  

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