How social science helped end the death penalty in Colorado

On March 23, 2020, Colorado became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty. At the same time that Democratic Governor Jared Polis signed the repeal bill into law, he commuted the sentences of all three men on Colorado’s death row to life imprisonment. Within weeks, prosecutors in the last two pending death penalty cases withdrew their requests for the death penalty. In the space of a month, the death penalty simply disappeared from the state.

But the events of 2020 were the culmination of years of work. Since at least 2007, abolitionists had introduced a series of repeal bills and worked to convince courts to rule the penalty unconstitutional, all to no avail. This time, however, conditions were ripe. The death penalty is in a steep decline throughout the United States and the around the world:

…To be sure, all of these facts made Colorado ripe for repeal. But what pushed the state over the line this time? Perhaps it was the quiet, persistent work of social scientists, who for two decades had been investigating the facts in hundreds of actual Colorado murder cases, conducting empirical research, and bringing into the public discourse the hard truths that Colorado’s death penalty was being administered in an arbitrary, racially disparate manner.

It’s pleasing to know that society is being guided in justice by genuinely prolife concerns.

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