Kate Brown, Oregon’s Democratic governor, has commuted the sentences of the state’s 17 death row inmates during her last month in office, changing the prisoner’s sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This order, which takes effect on Wednesday, has angered the victims’ families as well as government officials.
A prisoner has not been executed in Oregon since 1997.
In a statement, Brown explained the reasoning behind her new order. She said, “I have long believed that justice is not advanced by taking a life, and the state should not be in the business of executing people – even if a terrible crime placed them in prison.”
Brown also said that the victims of the prisoners’ crimes experience “pain and uncertainty while individuals sit on death row – especially in states with moratoriums on executions – without resolution.”
“My hope is that this commutation will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases,” she said.
Brown added that her decision was not based on “rehabilitative efforts by the individuals on death row,” but rather “reflects the recognition that the death penalty is immoral.”
“It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction,” reasoned Brown. “[It] is wasteful of taxpayer dollars, does not make communities safer, and cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably.”
Many relatives of those killed by the former death row inmates are angered by Brown’s decision.
Christian Michael Longo, a criminal who had been on death row prior to Brown commuting his sentence, murdered his wife, Mary Jane, and their three children in 2001. Mary Jane’s father spoke out against Brown’s decision to save the Oregon death row inmates, saying that her decision was “wrong” because the family of those who were killed will suffer the rest of their lives.
Since first taking office in 2015, Brown has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty and vowed to uphold the death penalty moratorium that her predecessor, Governor John Kitzhaber (D), had put in place.
This year, 17 death row inmates have been executed in the United States. The executions – which took place in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri, and Alabama – were all carried out by lethal injection.