Today, the push to reform the criminal justice system has never been stronger in America—a nation that incarcerates more men and women than any other country in the world and also wrongfully convicts hundreds of men and women. Although the number of executions carried out every year continues to drop in the U.S., the death penalty still exists in 31 states.
Until I Could Be Sure: How I Stopped the Death Penalty in Illinois is the memoir of former Illinois governor George Ryan’s journey from death penalty proponent to death penalty opponent. He defied the political winds and endured the fury and agony of the families of the victims and the condemned, as well as politicians, prosecutors, and law enforcement.
In January 2000, George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions—the first such action by any governor in the history of the United States. Despite a long history as a death penalty proponent, Ryan was emotionally moved after allowing an execution in 1999. He was also profoundly disturbed by the state’s history—12 men had been executed and 13 had been exonerated since the return of the death penalty in Illinois in 1977. More had been proven innocent than had been executed.
Three years later, in 2003, Ryan pardoned four death row inmates based on their actual innocence and then commuted the death sentences of 167 men and women—the largest death row commutation in U.S. history. Ryan’s actions breathed new life into the movement to abolish the death penalty in the United States.