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PA Governor Tom Wolf announced a moratorium on the death penalty in February.

Credit: Courtesy of Governor Tom Wolf/Creative Commons

While Pennsylvania is currently one of the 32 states with the death penalty, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf is working to change that.

Wolf announced in February that he had suspended the death penalty in the state until he can review an impending report on the subject.

“This moratorium is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row,” Wolf said in a statement on Feb. 13. “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.”

Wolf’s moratorium on capital punishment might not last long. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it will soon decide on the legality of Wolf putting a hold on the death penalty in the state.

While proponents of the death penalty have called Wolf’s actions lawless and unconstitutional, opponents have been quick to applaud Wolf’s efforts.

“The world has largely eliminated that form of punishment both because it’s a hard punishment to implement from the policy side and also because it’s just barbaric,” said Steve Hoenstine, press secretary for State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware), who introduced a bill on Feb. 13 to the state Senate that would eliminate the death penalty. “Senator Leach is very encouraged by the actions that Gov. Wolf has taken.”

“When we eventually see what the report holds, [Leach] thinks that we’ll be able to see that the flaws we see nationally with the death penalty are also the flaws that we have in Pennsylvania,” Hoenstine added. “That being the case, there is a pretty strong argument that we should eliminate it.”

While it is clear that the death penalty is very expensive for states, its effectiveness as a crime deterrent is largely unknown. `

“Basically no one knows if the modern death penalty impacts crime at all,” Penn criminology professor Emily Owens said. “In the United States, we don’t use the death penalty enough to statistically and credibly estimate an impact of the death penalty on crime.”

Even if the data has been inconclusive, Pennsylvanians strongly support capital punishment. According to a 2003 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 67 percent favor it, 28 percent oppose and 4 percent were undecided.

Pennsylvanians’ willingness to embrace the death penalty can be seen in its large death row population. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, the state currently has 186 people on death row, which trails only Alabama, Florida, Texas and California.

Nonetheless, the big death row population has not produced a frequent use of the death penalty. Pennsylvania has only executed three people since 1976, the last one in 1999.

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