Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty today, saying the system is flawed, ineffective, unjust, and expensive.
The state houses the fifth largest Death Row in the nation with 186 prisoners. In nearly 40 years, there have been 434 signed death warrants but only three inmates have been executed.
“This unending cycle of death warrants and appeals diverts resources from the judicial system,” Wolf wrote in a statement explaining his decision. “It is drawn out, expensive and painful for all involved.”
Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 150 people have been exonerated including six men in Pennsylvania. Wolf said the system is “riddled with flaws making it error prone, expensive, and anything but infallible.”
In noting further defects of the capital punishment system, Wolf pointed to strong evidence that a person is more likely to be charged with a capital offense and sentenced to death if he is poor, a minority, and particularly where the victim of the crime was white.
The governor’s action is part of a growing movement to abandon the practice. Pennsylvania becomes the fourth state to impose a moratorium on the death penalty, in addition to six states that have abolished capital punishment since 2007.
Wolf will await a report from a task force on capital punishment and until then will grant reprieves each time an execution is scheduled. The first temporary reprieve was given to Terrence Williams who was set to be executed on March 4.
“I think Governor Wolf realizes that when you have more exonerated prisoners than executed prisoners in 30 years, the system handed to you was obviously broken,” said Nick Yarris, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 21 years on Pennsylvania’s Death Row.
Like Pennsylvania, California has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on a system that serves no useful purpose, risks executing an innocent person, and is increasingly losing support. According to the California Legislative Analyst Office, replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole would save the state $130 million each year. Yet California continues to house the largest death row population in the country.
The only option is to end this costly charade and replace it with a system that is fair and consistent for everyone.