by Kevin Bliss
Studies show that Florida has one of the highest execution rates in the United States. It also has the highest number of exonerations of death-row prisoners than any other state. With one conviction overturned on death row for every three prisoners executed, civil liberty proponents say the system is in serious need of overhaul.
Support for capital punishment had been dropping in most of states nationwide. The executive director of Death Penalty Information Center, Robert Dunham, stated that executions in the United States have dropped 75% since 1999. New Hampshire recently became the 21st state to repeal capital punishment. Even Floridians in a survey conducted by a University of Santa Cruz professor in 2016 were in favor of life imprisonment over the death penalty 57% to 43%. Yet, any attempt to amend the death penalty in Florida has been largely ignored.
Florida’s execution in 2018 made it one of only eight states to put someone to death that year. And thus far, they are one of only five this year. The release of Clifford Williams this year also gives Florida a record of 29 prisoners on death row to be exonerated since the 1970s. Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Executive Director Mark Elliott said, “Getting it right needs to be more important than getting it done.”
Democratic Representative Dotie Joseph said systematic racism is inherent in Florida’s criminal justice system. She stated that people of color are “disproportionately charged, convicted and sentenced to death.” She co-sponsored a bill in the House in 2019 to end Florida’s death penalty, but that bill was not even granted a committee hearing.
Orlando businessman Chris King ran for governor last year on a platform that included a focus on prison reformation. Of the death penalty, he said, “I oppose it because we often get it wrong. I oppose it because it is disproportionately used against minority communities. I oppose it because it has not been a deterrent to violent crime. I oppose it because our state spends millions of dollars pursuing the death penalty through the legal system that could be better used in meaningful criminal justice reform. I oppose it because I believe the stronger punishment to heinous crimes is life in prison without the possibility of parole.”
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