First Steps Toward Abolition in Connecticut

March 11, 2011

By Helen Jack, Yale University Amnesty International Chapter Coordinator


Following the lead of Illinois, Connecticut took a step toward death penalty abolition. On Monday, the Connecticut Judiciary Committee, a joint committee of the House and Senate, held a public hearing on bills that would end execution in the state.

Along with a group of student activists, I traveled to Hartford to attend the public hearing. In the hearing room, we put on red stickers that read, “End the Death Penalty” and joined murder victims’ family members, exonerees, religious leaders, and other members of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty who were there to support abolition.

Eighty-two victims’ family members have signed a letter supporting abolition in Connecticut, and many of those family members offered powerful testimonies before the Judiciary Committee.  This follows on the heels of last month’s powerful press conference where 76 of the victims’ family members first announced their strong endorsement of abolition (see video above).

So many people had come to share their views on the death penalty that the hearing lasted late into the night. At 1:30 AM, fourteen hours after the hearing began, I testified, sharing the perspective of a Connecticut student and member of Amnesty International. I told the legislators about the passion for abolition I had seen on campus and about the events students have organized to educate our campus and community about the death penalty. At the close of my testimony, I examined the death penalty from a human rights perspective:

An execution is the ultimate form of torture, that if it is wrong to attach electrodes to a prisoner in order to give her pain, but not to kill her, then it is surely wrong to attach electrodes in order to kill the prisoner. Seen in this light, the death penalty is no longer simply a criminal justice issue. It is the ultimate violation of human rights.

The same argument holds true for lethal injection, Connecticut’s current execution method.  In the former Soviet Union, it was a form of torture to administer anti-psychotic drugs to healthy people because of their political dissent.  Would it not also be a form of torture to inject poisonous drugs into a prisoner in order to kill him?

Next, the Judiciary Committee will vote on whether or not the abolition bills will go before the full House and Senate. In 2009, abolition legislation passed both the House and the Senate but then was vetoed by Governor Jodi Rell. Connecticut’s new governor, Dannel Malloy, has said that he will sign a death penalty abolition bill if it passes in both legislative chambers.

As these pieces of legislation advance, activism will continue. The testimony and activist presence at the public hearing were only small parts of our efforts for abolition in Connecticut.  We will keep taking action for human rights!