NEW VOICES: Murder Victims’ Families Need Services More Than the Death Penalty

In a recent article in the Peoria Journal Star, Jennifer Bishop Jenkins and Kathleen Bishop Becker, both of whom had family members murdered, called on Illinois's state legislature to end the death penalty as a better way of helping victims.  Becker and Jenkins wrote, “When our family members were murdered, issues like crime prevention, victims' rights, and the death penalty stopped being merely hypothetical… it's because we prioritize victims and public safety that we support replacing the Illinois death penalty with life without parole sentences for convicted murderers.” Jenkins was a member of the Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Commission, which met over 80 times and held public hearings around the state. After a decade of study, Jenkins concluded that the system cannot be fixed. She and Becker wrote, “We note that Illinois has tried harder than any other state to make it work. But it can't work, and enough is enough… We still find innocent men on Death Row in our state. We still spend millions of dollars to keep this broken system limping along.” They also addressed how the death penalty harms victims’ families: “In capital cases, family members are forced to endure years of trials and appeals that last at least twice as long as in non-capital cases, not to mention a long string of possible reversals because the system didn't get it right. The offender becomes a household name and the victim is forgotten. We are frequently denied legal finality. The state ends up spending millions, which are then not available to help victims or family members.” In December, the Illinois House Judiciary Committee passed SB 3539, a bill to repeal the death penalty and use the money saved for services to victims’ families.  The bill is likely to return for a vote in early January 2011. The authors concluded, “We assure you, families like ours need these services much more desperately than we could ever need the death penalty.”

(J. Jenkins and K. Becker, "In the Spotlight: Facts, Careful Study Show Death Penalty System is Still Flawed," Peoria Journal Star, January 1, 2011).  See Victims.