In a year when many aspects concerning human rights are depressing, we are pleased – particularly at this time of the year – to report some good news this time from the state of Oregon.
In Oregon, the outgoing Governor, Kate Brown (Democrat), is commuting the sentences of the 17 prisoners currently on death row to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and dismantling the State’s execution chamber in an effort finally to end capital punishment in Oregon. In practice, the death penalty has not been in use since 2011, and, while in office, Ms Brown has exercised her power to grant clemency more than any of the State’s previous Governors, citing personal growth as part of the reason for reducing a person’s sentence. This final decision is based on her belief that the death penalty is immoral, a waste of money, and does not make communities safer. The incoming Governor, Tina Kotek, is also a Democrat. Obviously, under the existing circumstances, the 17 prisoners were unlikely to have been executed anyway, but what a relief it must be to have their actual sentences commuted. The Republicans are reported not to be happy – at least one saying it should have been put to ’the people’.
The Death Penalty Information Center reports that in a year that featured massive campaign advertising attempting to portray legal reformers as responsible for increases in violent crime, candidates committed to criminal legal reform or who promised to continue state-wide moratoria on executions posted key election wins in the 2022 midterm elections. Defying a pre-election narrative forecasting a backlash against progressive prosecutors and conventional wisdom that fear of crime drives political outcomes, reform prosecutors were re-elected to office and gained new footholds in counties across the country.
There is an interesting post on the Oregon State’s Department of Corrections website on the history, use of and methods of execution as it operates there.