2016-06-30
(RNS) Reform Jewish leaders have asked the nation's governors to follow the example of George H. Ryan, the governor of Illinois, who has placed a moratorium on the death penalty in his state after more than a dozen people on death row were found to be innocent.

"We commend Governor Ryan's actions and his leadership in saying aloud what so many across this nation already know: our criminal justice system is broken," wrote the representatives of social-action entities of Reform Judaism. "When the stakes are this high--with human life hanging in the balance--we must be doubly certain before imposing a death sentence."

The January 31 letter was signed by Judge David Davidson, chair of the Commission 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 Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew 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 our state's shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row," Ryan said in his declaration of the moratorium. "I cannot support a system which, in its administration, has proven to be so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare--the state's taking of innocent life."

Ryan continues to believe that capital punishment is an appropriate form of punishment, but he's concerned about the administration problems that have been discovered in his state. Since 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated in Illinois, 12 death row inmates have been executed and 13 have been exonerated.

In their letter to other governors, the Jewish leaders questioned whether 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 and Catholic leaders in announcing a joint effort to work for the abolishment of capital punishment.



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