Washington State’s murderers on death row got a new lease on life Tuesday afternoon.
Governor Jay Inslee, in a surprise move, announced a moratorium on death penalties in the state so long as he remains in office.
Inslee’s largest impetus for the move is his perception that the death penalty is not a means toward “equal justice” for the state’s offenders.
In particular, the Governor cited his fear that the mechanism underlying capital punishment in the state is inherently broken.
“There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system,” said Inslee.
The death penalty is still legal in most of the United States—banned by law only in 18 states mostly in the upper Midwest or Northeast of the country. However, several states haven’t executed more than a handful of inmates in the last three decades. Washington State has only executed five people since 1976, relatively nothing compared to the record 510 people Texas has executed since that time, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
In total, 79 people have been executed in Washington State since recordkeeping started in 1904.
There are currently nine inmates on death row in Washington State, all men who have been convicted of murdering women and/or children over the last two decades. These men are all currently being held at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
A state’s governor must sign off on the execution of an inmate before it can occur. Tuesday, Inslee said that for the rest of his term in office, when one of these execution orders crosses his desk, he will issue a reprieve.
The Governor noted—in no uncertain terms—that the current offenders on death row will never be killed, but added that they will also never leave prison. He also asserted that his decision had nothing to do with them or their crimes in particular, and expressed that he believes them guilty and their offenses “horrific.”
In particular, the Governor cited statistics about the number of death penalty sentences that are overturned (he pointed out that, since 1981, 60 percent of the death sentences issued in the state have been) as initially calling to his attention a flawed system.
Further, Inslee argued, the moratorium will save the state money.
“Studies have shown that a death penalty case from start to finish is more expensive than keeping someone in prison for the rest of their lives—even if they live to be 100 years of age,” Inslee said.
Inslee bolstered his position with claims that, citing the National Academy of Sciences, “the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder.”
He also expressed concern that many of the state’s most heinous offenders are not given the death penalty. In their coverage of the Governor’s announcement, the Seattle Times noted that Gary Ridgway, the “Green River Killer” convicted of killing 48 individuals, escaped the death penalty in exchange for aiding police in closing several still-open murder cases.
The United States is one of the few developed countries on the planet that still permits the death penalty—our ‘policy peers’ in this area include countries in the Middle East and Northeast Africa, as well as China and a smattering of countries in South Asia.
The European Union banned the export of drugs meant for use in executing prisoners to the U.S. in 2011, proclaiming that “The Union disapproves of capital punishment in all circumstances and works towards its universal abolition.”
The Catholic Church in recent years, particularly during the time of Pope John Paul II, has perhaps been one of the the loudest voices for the abolition of the death penalty around the world, arguing that continued support for capital punishment is rarely appropriate. Pope Francis has echoed the stance.
This particular position has evolved considerably over the years, St. Thomas Aquinas, an influential Catholic philosopher and regularly-referenced figure at Jesuit institutions like Seattle University, was a staunch supporter of the death penalty in his time.
Domestic arguments against the death penalty have been mounting over the last decade. Just last year, former President Jimmy Carter (formerly a vocal supporter) released a statement calling for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment, effectively claiming that the practice is unconstitutional as a “cruel and unusual” method of dealing with offenders. In particular, he argued that a disproportionate number of those who receive the death penalty are racial minorities. Four of the nine men on Washington State’s death row are Black.
In recent years, most executions around the country are done by lethal injection. In Washington State, this means a large, single dose of sodium thiopental. Curiously enough, Washington State is the only state in the country that still operates a working gallows and allows inmates on death row to decide for themselves between execution by lethal injection or by hanging.
Washington state’s moratorium will not be officially codified. The state’s next governor, if it isn’t Inslee, could reverse the halt.
Dallas is a human being who is, with some hesitation, studying economics and finance. He is entering the fourth year of his relationship with The Spectator. He enjoys vacuuming, wearing other people's glasses and pretending to be Australian.