Abolition as seen by police and justice practicioners
We are in New Jersey, neighbour state to New York where James Abbott is head of the police. “I’ve devoted my life to the security of the residents here. I’m responsible for the punishment of criminals and conscious that we – police officers – risk our lives for that.” He acknowledges without batting an eyelid that he supported the death penalty for a long time, and never thought he would change his mind: “I’m in favour of the death penalty in theory, but in practice, it does too much damage, so I became an abolitionist”.
His duties led him to participate in a New Jersey study on the death penalty. He had always been in favour of tough policies, in favour of victims and without pity for murderers but “in six months of study and consultations, I changed my mind on the death penalty”. His argument stems from the suffering of the victims’ families who want to mourn and not wait out the years of the various appeals and then the final execution, which to compound matters is the focus of the media’s attention.
“There is so much suffering during this period,” he reveals, “that the families requested that we stop the process.” This is the case for New Jersey but in all retentionist states, even in Texas, the death penalty takes years and costs millions of dollars. In California, it costs 137 million dollars a year, explains Jon Van de Kamp, the prosecutor for the District of Los Angeles and former state prosecutor for California.
By economizing these costs, the police official and the prosecutor propose that psychological and financial help be provided for families. In addition the means attributed to the investigations, in particular DNA tests, could be increased.
For James Abbott: “Life imprisonment with no possibility of release is the best alternative”.
As a judge, Pierre Akele handed down the death penalty several times. He is President of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s military High Court.
He says: “The majority of those who are in favour of the death penalty have not experienced it as I have. There is a dynamic to the process, and a dynamic to the investigation that leads you towards it relentlessly. It is only later that we realize the error we have made, and then it’s a tragedy – a tragedy that I carry with me every day.”