HARRISBURG- One week after a New Jersey state commission recommended abolition of the death penalty, a poll released today establishes that more Pennsylvanians prefer long sentences of incarceration rather than the death penalty as the punishment for even the worst murders.
As part of the annual Penn State Poll, the Center for Survey Research at the university's Harrisburg campus found that only 42.9% of respondents supported the death penalty when presented with alternative sentences. 45.1% of those surveyed supported either life without parole (35.5%) or life with parole (9.6%). The remainder of participants answered "don't know" or refused to answer.
"The public has become increasingly doubtful about the death penalty as public policy," said Andy Hoover, community organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which commissioned the poll with four other groups. "The people of Pennsylvania want real solutions to the issue of crime, not an antiquated, malfunctioning system of capital punishment.
"A temporary suspension of executions with a comprehensive analysis of how the death penalty is operating in Pennsylvania is the responsible thing for our state government to do."
856 statewide participants were asked, "What do you think should be the penalty for persons convicted of murder?" The poll was commissioned by the ACLU of PA, Amnesty International USA, Jewish Social Policy Action Network, Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (formerly Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty), and the Pennsylvania Council of Churches.
The five co-sponsoring organizations pointed to the data to renew their call for a moratorium on the death penalty in the Commonwealth.
"When the public sees innocent people are sentenced to die, it starts to have grave doubts about capital punishment," Hoover said, noting the six death row exonerations in the state and 123 nationwide. "The public's doubt increases when issues are raised around the inability of the poor to get quality representation, the impact of race, the taxpayers' costs of maintaining the death penalty, and the ways that capital punishment fails victims' family members."
The Penn State Poll comes on the heels of the Death Penalty Information Center's 2006 Year End Report, which was released on December 14. In the report, DPIC noted that this year's Gallup Poll showed support for life without parole trumping the death penalty. The report also indicated a significant decrease in both death sentences and executions around the country and moratoria in ten different states.
The Illinois moratorium instituted by former Governor George Ryan is still in place and is now joined by the New Jersey halt to executions. Eight other states have suspended executions due to concerns around the lethal injection issue.