On Thursday a bi-partisan group of law-makers will gather to announce their intention to move death penalty repeal legislation forward in Kansas. Bill 2515 comes more than fifty years after the last execution in Kansas, when George York and James Latham were executed in 1965. Kansas’s hesitance to execute is consistent with a national ambivalence toward capital punishment that has fueled momentum away from the practice as more people come to understand the many problems inherent to the practice.
With racial bias and geography playing significant roles in determining who is sentenced to death, and with execution methods facing many legal hurdles, many states and public opinion have turned against the death penalty in recent years.
Kansas lawmakers will likely consider the risk of executing an innocent person, one of the main concerns raised about capital punishment. Just over a month ago, Floyd Bledsoe was freed from prison after DNA evidence proved him innocent. He spent fifteen years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. National data shows that the risk of executing an innocent person is greater that we might like to think. Since 1976, 156 people have been exonerated from death row.
There is growing understanding in Kansas and around the country that the death penalty system is broken. The risk of executing innocents is unconscionably high, and evidence continues to show that the death penalty does not increase public safety. A successful repeal effort in Kansas will go a long way to move the nation forward on this important criminal justice reform issue.