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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Taiwan aiming to ultimately abolish death penalty: justice minister

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Taipei, Feb. 12 (CNA) The Taiwan government is hoping to one day abolish capital punishment, but until then, death penalties must be carried out in accordance with the proper legal procedure, according to Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san (邱太三).

In an interview with CNA earlier this month, Chiu said President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), like her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), sees abolition of the death penalty in Taiwan as a long-term goal.

However, extensive public discussion of the controversial issue would be required before that goal can be achieved and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has not set any timeframe for it, Chiu said.

While human rights groups such as the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty have been calling for an end to capital punishment, it will take time to obtain public consensus on the issue, he said.

In the meantime, capital punishment will continue to be carried out in Taiwan in accordance with the legal procedure, Chiu said.

Although Taiwan has ratified two international conventions that are seen as legal foundations for ending the death penalty, they are not binding on that issue, he said.

Chiu said that since he took office in May 2016 as minister of justice, the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office has not sent him any orders for the execution of death row prisoners, who now number 43.

Explaining the legal procedure in Taiwan, he said if the death penalty is handed down in the lower courts, the case must go all the way to the Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court upholds the verdict, the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office then reviews the matter and decides if to carry out the sentence, after which an execution order is sent to the MOJ for the justice minister's signature, Chiu said.

Even at that point, the MOJ has the right to assess the case and decide whether to sign the execution order, he added.

The death penalty remains a controversial issue in Taiwan, years after its Legislature in 2009 ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the two conventions that Chiu referred to as the legal foundations for the abolition of capital punishment.

Meanwhile, Chiu said his ministry is working to improve prison conditions in Taiwan by providing more beds so that inmates can each have one.

Currently, Taiwan's prison population is 62,000, while the number of prison beds is 23,000, which indicates that about 40,000 prisoners are sleeping on the floor.

"Frankly, such conditions are inhumane," Chiu said. He said three new prisons are under construction, each with a capacity of 4,000 inmates, while existing facilities are being expanded.

Chiu said he is also hoping to implement a prison rehabilitation program that would provide training for inmates to learn new skills and increase their chances of entering the job market after their release. 

Source: Focus Taiwan, Wang Yang-yu, Hsiao Po-wen, Frances Huang, February 12, 2018


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but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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