Pennsylvania's New Governor Wolf Issues a Surprise Execution Moratorium
Although Pennsylvania's new Governor Tom Wolf, who last November unseated Republican incumbent Tom Corbett, cited more than 315 million solid reasons to back his surprise order putting an immediate moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania, law enforcement organizations in the state still castigated his action, calling it an outrageous assault on a criminal justice system that they contend works well.
When Wolf announced his imposition of a moratorium on executions due to a disturbing history of abuses and errors in death penalty prosecutions in the state with the fifth largest death row in the country, he cited a damning statistic overlooked in most news media accounts of his recent action.
Operating the death penalty in Pennsylvania over the course of the past thirty-plus-years has cost the state's taxpayers between $315-to-$600-million, Wolf noted in a memorandum his office released that detailed why he halted executions.
The Pennsylvania “has received very little, if any, benefit from this massive expenditure,” Gov. Wolf said. An exact cost figure for death penalty prosecutions in Pennsylvania remains elusive because state legislators and top officials in its court system have to date resisted compiling specific such figures.
The enormous expenses associated with the death penalty, from trial through appeals to execution, is a reason why many other states that have halted executions. Death penalty prosecutions cost three times as much or more than non-capital murder prosecutions, repeated studies nationwide have documented.
New Jersey, a state adjacent to Pennsylvania, abolished its death penalty in 2007 due largely to costs. Seventeen other states nationwide have abolished the death penalty, too. Four others, now including Pennsylvania, have imposed moratoriums on executions.
While it currently has 185 prisoners on its death row, all housed in a costly supermax prison, Pennsylvania has executed only three people in nearly 40 years, and each of those inmates who were killed had voluntarily dropped their appeals to face execution.
Reactions to Gov. Wolf’s moratorium order from that state’s associations representing police and prosecutors were shrill and predictable. Law enforcement officials -– in Pennsylvania and across America -– have an odious track record of resisting reforms aimed at correcting lawlessness by law enforcers.
Wolf’s order halting, but not eliminating executions in Pennsylvania was immediately blasted as a “travesty” by the state troopers’ association and was labeled an abuse of “the law” by the association representing district attorneys.