Bishop Fabre: Louisiana Should End the Death Penalty

Bishop Shelton Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the US Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, writes:

Two leading Louisiana legislators, one Democrat and one Republican, have sponsored bipartisan legislation to repeal the death penalty in Louisiana. The Legislature should pass this measure, and the governor should sign it.

For Catholics and many people of good will, the death penalty is inadmissible in today’s world because it offends the dignity of the human person without actually helping to promote the common good. Every faith tradition teaches that each of us is made in the image of God and that all human life has value. A person does not lose his humanity — even after committing a serious crime….

Nationwide, more than 70 percent of the people executed in 2018 showed evidence of serious mental illness, brain damage, intellectual disabilities, or severe childhood abuse and trauma. A few years ago, a man who was executed in Missouri had no criminal history until he suffered a brain injury while working at a lumberyard. There are better ways to keep the public safe….

For as long as humans are making the decisions, the system will be imperfect. Since 1973, 165 people have been exonerated and freed from death row with evidence of their innocence, including 11 people in Louisiana….

Just as the risk of executing an innocent person is unacceptable, so too is the racial prejudice that infects every aspect of our death penalty process. Nearly 70 percent of the people on Louisiana’s death row are people of color, the highest percentage of any state with more than three people on death row. In one study of Louisiana’s system, the chances of a death sentence were 97 percent higher for defendants whose victim was white than for defendants whose victim was black. Louisianans should not stand for this prejudice….

In nearly a decade, we have seen that we can do without the death penalty. It’s time for Louisiana to bring our public policies in line with our values, to embrace a culture of life, to choose mercy, and to end capital punishment once and for all.