By Andrea Hall, Mid Atlantic Regional Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator
Our victory is now complete. When Maryland’s death penalty was abolished last year, we knew that our work wasn’t finished, because homicide victims matter. With legislation passed last weekend, the state became a model for directing the cost savings from repeal to taking care of murder victims’ family members.
[pullquote text=”Taking care of murder victims’ family members is the right thing to do. Our work isn’t done until we make sure their needs are met.”]As death penalty abolitionists, we recognize that while not all murder victims’ family members support repeal, for many, capital punishment is nothing more than a broken promise that fails to provide the closure or justice they seek. We have created a space for the voices of survivors to be heard in this debate, and those voices have proven to be extraordinarily powerful. And now, we have begun to act on what we have learned from them.
When a loved one is taken by violence, many families struggle to find the resources to meet their sudden, unanticipated needs. In Maryland, while victims’ services are designed to reach survivors around the state, the reality is that far too often those necessities are unmet by the patchwork of services across jurisdictions.
A 2008 commission convened by the governor to study the state’s death penalty recommended, “If the death penalty is abolished in Maryland and financial savings are realized as anticipated, those savings need to be dedicated directly to assist victims by providing and enforcing victims services, rights, and compensation.”
This weekend, that recommendation was affirmed unanimously by the General Assembly. The new law will direct the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to designate family members of homicide victims as a class of victims eligible for grants for counseling, legal, mental health and advocacy services. It also requires the state to provide funds specifically for these programs.
At the same time, the state’s fiscal year 2015 budget guarantees that $500,000 will be available for these services immediately. Maryland’s death penalty repeal bill originally included this funding. When that money was stripped from the bill in committee, the governor pledged to include it in his budget, and earlier this year, he made good on his promise.
Taking care of murder victims’ family members is the right thing to do. Our work isn’t done until we make sure their needs are met. Abolishing the death penalty is important, but let’s not leave the families behind. Homicide victims matter.