In 2004, Jennifer Kirby successfully led the charge on Montana’s Initiative 149, which raised taxes on tobacco products to fund health insurance programs for kids. But as the incoming coordinator of the Montana Abolition Coalition, she says convincing people to ban capital punishment will be a tougher sell than a tax on cigarettes.
“People that I’ve talked to don’t really know a lot about the death penalty. They tend to believe that it’s for the victim’s family,” she says. “But what they don’t realize is that most victim’s families are against it. They’ve been through the whole process, and they don’t want anyone else to have to go through it.”
Still getting her bearings after less than two full weeks on the job, Kirby, who formerly worked in the State Auditor’s office, says she hasn’t decided how to best educate Montanans about the death penalty, but she promises a major push during the next year.
Abolition Coalition President Scott Crichton, who also leads Montana’s chapter of the American Civil Liberty Union, hopes Kirby will lead the group to success.
“It’s pretty clear from our legislative work that most people don’t have a deeply rooted rationale for their opinion [on the death penalty],” Crichton says. “Her job is to excavate and get to the roots to get people thinking.”
Coincidently, during Kirby’s first day on the job the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill banning capital punishment in that state.
“I really think Montana could be the next state on that list [to ban the death penalty],” Kirby says.
The Montana state Senate passed a ban of the death penalty during the 2007 legislative session, but the Republican controlled House blocked the bill’s progress.
“I honestly don’t think that was an educated decision,” Kirby says. “I think, again, it’s that people think it helps the victim’s family, or they think that it saves the state money. But neither are true.”
For Kirby, the horror of executing criminals in the people’s name seems obvious. She says she’s abhorred the death penalty since childhood. “The state should not be sponsoring the killing of people,” she says.