Kathleen Garcia, a victims’ advocate and expert on traumatic grief, recently shared her opinions on the death penalty in New Hampshire, a state that is studying the issue through its Commission on Capital Punishment. Garcia, a member of New Jersey’s Death Penalty Study Commission, wrote, “Make no mistake – I am a conservative, a victims’ advocate and a death penalty supporter. But my real life experience has taught me that as long as the death penalty is on the books in any form, it will continue to harm survivors. For that reason alone, it must be ended.” Garcia suffered through the murder of a family member in 1984, but has found the death penalty to be much more harmul than helpful: “It is my opinion, as well as the view of other long-standing victim advocates throughout New Jersey, that our capital punishment system harmed the survivors of murder victims. It may have been put in place to serve us, but in fact it was a colossal failure for the many families I serve.”

To ensure that innocent people are not executed, death penalty cases often take many years, and even decades, before reaching a resolution. As a result, murder victims’ families interact with the criminal justice system for a much longer time than they would if the death penalty was not sought. Garcia noted, “[Victims’ families] endured multiple trials, as well as the additional trauma each one created in their fractured lives, leaving them feeling revictimized by the very system they once trusted to give them some sense of justice. Meanwhile, families with differing opinions on the death penalty are divided at the moment they need each other most.” Adding to the traumatizing experience is the disappointing reality that the needs of homicide survivors are often overlooked, going without access to ongoing services, peer support or affordable, specialized counseling.

Garcia concluded, “I now believe that the death penalty must be ended and replaced with life without parole, a harsh punishment that provides victims with the swiftness and certainty they need at a fraction of the cost in terms of dollars and human suffering by homicide survivors. Every dollar we spend on a punishment that harms survivors is one we are taking away from the services that can address the emergent and long-term needs of all victims.

(K. Garcia, “Death penalty hurts - not helps - families of murder victims,” Nashua Telegraph, March 28, 2010, op-ed (emphasis added)). See New Voices and Victims.