We’ve long opposed the death penalty because it doesn’t deter, is prone to error, and based on revenge. It appeals to the worst in us. David Kaczynski, a former Schenectady resident who until recently headed the group New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, appealed to the best.
The man who turned in his brother Ted, the Unabomber, and then worked to save his life and the lives of others who would be subject to capital punishment, had great moral conviction and courage. Now that he’s retired, and the death penalty has been declared unconstitutional in New York state, the group is morphing into something else, something with a new name, new leader and new focus. But it’s doing work that is very much consistent with Kaczynski’s values, as a recent story by the Gazette’s Sara Foss showed.
The new name is New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. The new leader is the Rev. Valerie Ackerman, a Schenectady resident who is a Unitarian minister. And the new focus is violence prevention and rehabilitation.
Take just about anyone on death row and you can fill in the background: foster homes, juvenile institutions, neglect, domestic violence, bullying, addiction, sexual abuse, mental illness, emotional problems. Dealing with these issues is not as simple and clear-cut as opposing the death penalty, but they are the root causes of violence. Ackerman understands this, as does Bishop Howard Hubbard, chairman of the group’s board of directors, and they want to have programs to address them.
Two programs the organization already has in place sound good. The Limits of Loyalty brings survivors of violence, including victims and family members of victims, to schools to tell their stories. The idea is to impress on students the consequences of violence, and show them that what they think of as loyalty to friends or family members can be condoning or even abetting violence.
The other program, Project Safe Neighborhoods, is a national program that has parolees meet with ex-convicts and law enforcement officials who welcome them home, let them know they have options and otherwise help them start the transition to life outside prison. Rehabilitation is possible, and programs like this make it more likely.
With or without a death penalty, saving lives doesn’t just mean preventing executions. It also means preventing violent crime, which forever affects the life of both perpetrator and victim. And, it means rehabilitation — i.e., turning lives around, creating productive members of society and preventing future acts of violence. David Kaczynski would approve of the group’s new direction.