Sunday, March 7, 2010

Guest column: Fla.'s death penalty is a broken system

Posted: March 7, 2010 - 12:20am


This is in response to a story written by The Associated Press's Sarah Larimer, "State Executes Grossman....," on Feb. 17 in The St. Augustine Record. I was one of the vigillers and banner-bearers on that day ("Pax Christi Northeast Florida -- Justice, Peace, Reconciliation") during Martin Grossman's execution. I was interviewed by one of your reporters, as was one of the other vigillers, but not one word of what we had to say got into the article. Why would you send out a photographer and reporter to interview people, and then not use anything of what they had to say in your article? Is it that you don't want to publish what some people in our community think about the death penalty? Is it not financially or politically expedient for you to publish our point of view?

We were there because we believe killing the killers does not solve the problems of violence in our culture. We were there because we believe that the Florida death penalty is a broken system that is discriminatory against the poor and minorities; it does not bring the closure that it promises to the victim's families; and it costs the citizens of Florida $51 million more each year as opposed to life sentences without parole.

We have put to death 22 people in Florida alone that have been proven to be innocent (129 nationwide). Why would we continue such a system? Maybe it has to do with who is making a profit from this system -- or who wants to get elected, so they must be "tough on crime."

Many of us believe in rehabilitative and restorative justice -- the kind that puts back on our streets ex-offenders that are ready to contribute back to society, rather than just return back to prison. We believe many are redeemable; but we need a criminal justice system that is willing to treat offenders as human beings with an innate dignity -- holding them responsible, while helping them find the tools they need to make better choices and find meaning in life.

If we are pouring all of our funding into building more and more prisons, while cutting funding for drug addiction and rehabilitative programs, what do we expect to gain as a society? We now have 2.3 million people in our (nation's) prisons -- that's seven times more than any other country in the world. Is it that our citizens are more violent than anywhere else -- or is it that we have a criminal justice system that just wants to solve its problems by locking people up and throwing away the key?

I know we can do better than that. I pray we can do better than that.


Nancy O'Byrne is the chairperson of the Catholic Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission and has held that position for about 10 years. She also is co-ordinator for Pax Christi Northeast Florida and for JustFaith for the Diocese of St. Augustine (an adult formation program on Catholic Social Teaching.) She also belongs to FADP (Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty) and to the Associates of the Sisters of St. Joseph. "In accordance with the U.S. Bishops Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty, we have helped initiate execution vigils around our diocese: in front of the Duval County Courthouse in downtown Jacksonville; in front of the Flagler County Courthouse in Bunnell; and at the corners of State Road A1A South and 16th Streets in St. Augustine," she said.

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