Sen. Constance N. Johnson announced at a state Capitol press conference on Monday her intention to renew efforts to repeal the death penalty in Oklahoma. Johnson said both economic and ethical concerns make this the right time for the state to reopen dialogue on abolishing the death penalty.
Oklahoma has executed the third-highest number of prisoners since 1976, when the Supreme Court permitted the death penalty to resume.
“Since 1973, 135 death row inmates in the United States have been released from prison after they were determined to be innocent,” said Johnson, D-Oklahoma County. “Faced with the understanding that our system of justice is not infallible, we cannot continue allowing the system to be the arbiter of life or death for those charged with crimes in Oklahoma. This is in issue that cuts to the heart of our desire to have a just and sensible government, and it is a moral and ethical responsibility that must weigh heavily on our collective conscience.”
Johnson added that the high costs of prosecuting death penalty cases and carrying out their final punishment represent another financial drain on a state currently faced with a budget shortfall of up to a billion dollars. In its most recent review of death penalty cases, the state of Kansas concluded that death penalty cases were 70 percent more costly than comparable non-death penalty cases, including the cost of incarceration.
Jim Rowan, President of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said that in a time of shrinking government resources, state dollars could best be spent on investigating unsolved crimes, or cold crimes, and organized criminal activity.
“Our hope is to renew the dialogue about the costs of the death penalty in both human suffering and economic resources,” Rowan said. “Through a critical examination of the issue, we want to see if these dollars could be better spent on making our system of justice more effective and efficient. The ethical and economic ramifications of the issue merit nothing less.”
Johnson and Rep. Sue Tibbs will host the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Symposium on Dec. 15-17, in the Senate Chamber, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and 1:30 to 4:30 each day. Topics discussed will include abolishing the death penalty, removal of the Governor from the parole process, the Actual Innocence Project, expungement, sentencing reform and barriers to reintegration. All meetings are open to the public.