Sen. Constance N. Johnson said Monday she wants to abolish the death penalty in Oklahoma.
“Since 1973, 135 death row inmates in the United States have been released from prison after they were determined to be innocent,” said Johnson, D-Oklahoma County, during a press conference at the Capitol. “Faced with the understanding that our system of justice is not infallible, we cannot continue allowing the system to be the arbiter of life or death for those charged with crimes in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma has executed the third-highest number of prisoners since 1976, when the Supreme Court permitted the death penalty to resume, according to Johnson.
Johnson also said the high cost of death penalty cases are putting too much a strain on the state’s fiscal budget.
Jim Rowan, President of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said state dollars could best be spent on investigating unsolved crimes, or cold crimes, and organized criminal activity.
“Our hope is to renew the dialogue about the costs of the death penalty in both human suffering and economic resources,” Rowan said. “Through a critical examination of the issue, we want to see if these dollars could be better spent on making our system of justice more effective and efficient. The ethical and economic ramifications of the issue merit nothing less.”
Johnson and Rep. Sue Tibbs will host the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Symposium on Dec. 15-17, in the Senate Chamber, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and 1:30 to 4:30.
Topics discussed will include abolishing the death penalty, removal of the Governor from the parole process, the Actual Innocence Project, expungement, sentencing reform and barriers to reintegration. All meetings are open to the public.