FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE For Information Contact
April 28, 2005 Celeste Fitzgerald
973-635-6396 or 609-278-6719
NEW POLL SHOWS NEW JERSEYANS PREFER
LIFE IN PRISON WITHOUT PAROLE
OVER DEATH PENALTY
LEADING STATEWIDE GROUP SAYS RESULTS OF NEW RUTGERS SURVEY
CONFIRM WEAKENING SUPPORT FOR STATE’S
“FAILED DEATH PENALTY SYSTEM”
Trenton --Nearly half of all New Jersey residents prefer life prison without the possibility of parole as the penalty for murder, with only one third choosing capital punishment, according to a new public opinion survey by the Bloustein Center for Survey Research at Rutgers University. The poll, released today by New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NJADP), indicates a continuing erosion of public support for the death penalty in the Garden State. Just six years ago, New Jerseyans preferred the death penalty to life in prison without parole by 44% to 37%. Today, 47% of New Jersey citizens prefer life in prison with no chance of parole.
Support for the death penalty declines even further – to less than 30% - when respondents are given the choice between the death penalty and life without parole, plus payment of restitution to the families of murder victims.
Significantly, the survey also revealed that almost all New Jerseyans believe that innocent people are sometimes convicted of murder, and that, when they consider the high cost of prosecuting death penalty cases, 66% of respondents prefer that the money instead be spent on crime prevention or services for victims’ families.
“When it comes to capital punishment, New Jersey citizens could not be clearer,” said Celeste Fitzgerald, Director of NJADP. “They prefer the stronger, fairer, and more reliable penalty of life in prison without possibility of parole.”
“Much has changed since I voted to reinstate the death penalty twenty years ago,” said Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union). “New technologies such as DNA and other evidence have shown that people can make terrible mistakes. It’s increasingly clear that the very real risk of executing an innocent person, not to mention the expense and effort of trying to get it right, has led New Jerseyans to turn away form the death penalty.”
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Senator Robert Martin (R-Morris) agreed that new information is driving the trend away from support for capital punishment, “There is a growing recognition that the death penalty simply can’t work. It’s a complex system that arbitrarily selects defendants for death and creates more stress and appeals, even as it is plagued by serious error. Each new exoneration reminds us of the unacceptable possibility of wrongful execution. It’s no wonder that this poll shows people moving away from it.”
Fitzgerald noted that the New Jersey numbers are consistent with other state and national surveys reflecting a national trend. “The trend is certainly going away from the death penalty as citizens learn more about the strong alternative of life without parole and more about the death penalty itself. We know that capital punishment costs far more than life in prison, that it creates ongoing anguish for victims’ families, that it diverts scarce resources from other critical programs, and that it risks executing the innocent. New Jerseyans would rather see the vast resources spent on the death penalty used to help victims’ families.”
NJADP commissioned the Bloustein Center to conduct an independent statewide survey of New Jersey residents to assess opinions on capital punishment. The survey involved telephone interviews conducted April 5-11, 2005 with a random probability sample of 801 residents 18 years old and older. The poll had a margin for error of 3.5 percent, and its results mirror those from a survey conducted by the Eagleton Institute of Politics’ Center for Public Interest Polling three years ago.
Legislation has been introduced in both the State Senate and the General Assembly to replace the State’s death penalty system. Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo has authored A-3569, and Senators Raymond Lesniak and Robert Martin have introduced S-1212.
Just last month, during Holy Week, the US Catholic Conference of Bishops announced a new national campaign to end the death penalty in the United States. That same month, a New York Assembly committee rejected a bill that would have reinstated New York’s death penalty after more than 170 people, nearly all of whom opposed the death penalty, testified at five public hearings throughout the state.
Since New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, nearly 70 percent of all New Jersey capital sentences have been reversed for serious error. According to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington DC, 119 innocent people have been exonerated from death rows nationally since 1977 – roughly one for every eight executed. New Jersey has not executed anyone in over four decades.
NJADP, which has campaigned since 1999 for an end to the death penalty, is core group of more than 200 New Jersey organizations that oppose capital punishment. NJADP has over 10,000 members statewide. The survey is available at www.njadp.org or by calling 609-278-6719.