Pelavin: "Georgia was the first state to prohibit execution of the mentally retarded, and we hope it will serve as an example to the rest of the nation in refusing to execute the mentally ill."
Contact: Alexis Rice or Julie Silverman 202-387-2800
WASHINGTON, February 26, 2002 -In response to last night's decision by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute the death sentence of Alexander Williams, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
We commend the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles for granting clemency to Alexander Williams by issuing a stay of execution and commuting his death sentence to life imprisonment without parole. This decision marks only the seventh time the Board has voted to commute a death sentence and the first stay granted because of mental illness. Mr. Williams is a diagnosed schizophrenic and was only 17 years old at the time he committed his offense.
Since 1959, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) have formally opposed the death penalty. The policy of the UAHC states, "We believe that there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified, and that it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods in dealing with crime." The CCAR has resolved that capital punishment "does not act as an effective deterrent to crime." Acting upon these resolutions, we wrote a letter to the Georgia Board of Pardons appealing for clemency for Mr. Williams.
While the Reform Movement opposes capital punishment generally, the execution of a person who suffers from mental illness is particularly abhorrent. Both the UAHC and CCAR have recently adopted policy statements on "Establishing a Comprehensive System of Care for Persons with Mental Illness" which call upon state and federal jurisdictions within the United States that retain the death penalty to exclude persons with mental illness from consideration for the death penalty.
Georgia was the first state to prohibit execution of the mentally retarded, and we hope it will serve as an example to the rest of the nation in refusing to execute the mentally ill.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .