Pennsylvania’s death penalty

On Friday Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf announced that he was putting in place a functional moratorium on the state death penalty:

Governor Tom Wolf announced a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania that will remain in effect until the governor has received and reviewed the forthcoming report of the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment…

“Today’s action comes after significant consideration and reflection,” said Governor Wolf. “This moratorium is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes. This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 150 people have been exonerated from death row nationwide, including six men in Pennsylvania. Recognizing the seriousness of these concerns, the Senate established the bipartisan Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission to conduct a study of the effectiveness of capital punishment in Pennsylvania. Today’s moratorium will remain in effect until this commission has produced its recommendation and all concerns are addressed satisfactorily.”

When I was in Washington last month for the March for Life, my primary goal was to speak to the Pennsylvania leadership and as many grassroots people as I could about the death penalty, both to learn their position on it and if possible to advocate for a permanent ban.

This is a significant development for Pennsylvania, and it fulfills one of Gov. Wolf’s campaign promises. It’s also a significant issue for me as a board member of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia and as part of the Culture of Life framework. But I hope that Gov. Wolf seizes on the momentum of the task force/advisory commission’s findings to work with Republicans and implement a true and permanent ban on the practice.

A moratorium imposed by the Governor isn’t a true and permanent ban, and it’s also something that’s likely to make the issue into a political football for future aspirants to the office to play with. That would be a shame. Better to resolve the issue substantively through a true and permanent ban as more than two dozen other states have done.


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