JARRATT, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia is making history as the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty.
Governor Ralph Northam signed this bill into law at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarrett on Wednesday afternoon.
“We join 22 other states in saying the government will not take a life. The government will no longer execute people,” said Northam.
The Greensville Correctional Center is a place where Virginia carried out lethal injections and electrocutions.
The last person to be executed in the center was William Morva, who killed two people in Montgomery County. He was given a lethal injection in 2017.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 113 people have died by execution in Virginia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The Commonwealth ranks second to Texas, which has carried out more than 500 executions.
Reverend Kevin Jones, a member of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, believes the new law is a victory for Virginia.
“It’s assumed it’s rightful place as the leader, at least in the South, in saying that this dreadful punishment will not even exist,” he said.
Jones hopes this new law will steer the focus on redemption for inmates.
“If prisons can ever focus more on rehabilitation than incarceration, more on education than incarceration, then the prisons will be in the right direction,” Jones said.
Even though the bill garnered enough support to pass through General Assembly, many lawmakers still don’t agree with the decision.
“I think, ultimately, this is going to make Virginians feel less safe and less secure,” said Delegate Jason Miyares, who represents the 82nd district in Virginia Beach.
Del. Miyares believes the option for capital punishment should be on the table for prosecutors.
“Those ultimate crimes, those rare cases deserve the ultimate punishment and they need to make that available to prosecutors and the families of the victims so they can make that decision themselves because I think it’s part of their healing process,” he said.
Two people remained on Virginia’s death row. With Northam’s signature, their sentences will be commuted to life in prison.
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