Should Character Reform Spare Death-Row Inmates?


Since the U.S. reinstated capital punishment in 1976, 229 death-row inmates have been granted clemency, and the list of reasons is short, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The 16 governors who have given such pardons cited just three reasons: doubt about guilt, a governor’s opposition to the death penalty, and mental disability of the accused. Absent from the list is character reform of the guilty. The California case of Stanley “Tookie” Williams is reviving the debate over rehabilitation and its role in the penal system. Williams, cofounder of the notorious L.A. street gang the Crips and a four-time murderer, has been in prison since 1981. He has become an antigang crusader whose work earned him several Nobel Peace Prize nominations. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger must decide before Dec. 13 whether Williams will live or die.

“We as a country have been dramatically changing our notions about clemency and the death penalty in the past half decade,” says Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. But Michael Paranzino of a crime victim advocacy group said, “It sends the worst signal to the criminal element if you commute someone.” He asks whether criminals should think “that if you suddenly write poetry, say all the right things, and find a champion on the outside that you get a ‘get out of jail free’ card?”


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