Connecticut has finally wiped its hands of that messy and sorrowful task of killing its own citizens. Today, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation to repeal the death penalty that was passed by the state legislature earlier this month.
After a series of starts, stops, hurry up and wait, promises, threats, votes and vetoes over recent years, Connecticut stepped surely onto the abolition train and prospectively repealed the death penalty once and for all. The 11 men on death row before the bill's passage will remain there and continue to face execution, but thankfully no one else will. We applaud the brave legislators who heard the pleas of scores of Connecticut murder victim families who called for repeal and nonviolent healing, of law enforcement officials who recognize the death penalty is the least effective tool against violence, of conservatives and progressives alike who have concern about its discriminatory use and huge expense, and of religious leaders of all faiths who insist state-sponsored murder cannot be justified.
With this law, Connecticut becomes the fifth state in five years to eliminate the death penalty from its roster of punishment — after New York and New Jersey in 2007, New Mexico in 2009 and Illinois just last year. The trend makes it increasingly clear that the death penalty is itself dying — we as Americans are moving past the need for vengeance and retribution masquerading as justice. Perhaps now we can focus on treatment of offenders, funding cold case investigation and services for victims of violence — all which can heal our society rather than do it further harm.
Unfortunately, we were unable to beat back a last-minute amendment mandating solitary confinement for defendants sentenced under the new law — conditions that have been shown to be inhumane and dangerous not only to prisoners but to society. Even as we celebrate this latest repeal of the death penalty as an indication that people across the nation are recognizing the systemic injustices that plague the entire death penalty system, we will continue to fight the injustice of long-term solitary confinement.
The ACLU of Connecticut was a central participant in the statewide coalition efforts to move this legislation, and we are thankful to everyone who called their legislators to urge them to support repeal. It is fitting that, as we commemorate the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968, we are inspired by his assurance that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." We've seen another point of light this week in Connecticut.