(RNS) Reform Jewish leaders have asked the nation's governors tofollow the example of George H. Ryan, the governor of Illinois, who has placed amoratorium on the death penalty in his state after more than a dozenpeople on death row were found to be innocent.

"We commend Governor Ryan's actions and his leadership in saying aloudwhat so many across this nation already know: our criminal justicesystem is broken," wrote the representatives of social-action entitiesof Reform Judaism. "When the stakes are this high--with human lifehanging in the balance--we must be doubly certain before imposing adeath sentence."

The January 31 letter was signed by Judge David Davidson, chair of theCommission on Social Action of Reform Judaism; Rabbi David Saperstein,director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Mark J.Pelavin, associate director of the center. The Religious Action Centerof Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of AmericanHebrew Congregations.

The letter was sent on the same day Ryan announced the moratorium, which will hold until a commission that he appoints reviews the use of the death penalty in his state.

"I now favor a moratorium, because I have grave concerns about ourstate's shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting themon death row," Ryan said in his declaration of the moratorium. "I cannotsupport a system which, in its administration, has proven to be sofraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare--thestate's taking of innocent life."

Ryan continues to believe that capital punishment is an appropriate formof punishment, but he's concerned about the administration problems thathave been discovered in his state. Since 1977, when the death penaltywas reinstated in Illinois, 12 death row inmates have been executed and13 have been exonerated.

In their letter to other governors, the Jewish leaders questionedwhether others might be exonerated if more research were done. "Illinois has learned of these mistaken convictions through the diligence and hard work of a well-funded public defender's office and through the tenacity of a highly publicized university journalism class," they wrote. "How many more people would be cleared if other states had these mechanisms? How many currently go to the death chamber for crimes they did not commit?"

Last December, Reform representatives joined other Jewish andCatholic leaders in announcing a joint effort to work for theabolishment of capital punishment.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus