CHICAGO (Reuters) - The last fifteen death row inmates in Illinois will live out their days in jail cells, instead of dying on a execution gurney, now that capital punishment has officially ended in the state.
The ban took effect on Friday. But the state Department of Corrections began emptying the death row cells in Pontiac in March. The prisoners have been evaluated and moved to other maximum security facilities throughout Illinois, department spokeswoman Stacey Solano said on Saturday.
"For us everything is already finished," Solano said.
"After they no longer had the special classification of death row inmates, they became just like any other maximum security inmate," she said.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a ban on the death penalty on March 9, saying it was impossible to fix a system that had wrongly condemned at least 20 innocent men.
Since March, the state has converted the former death row to a step-down facility for prisoners removed from the super-maximum prison in downstate Tamms, Illinois. Solano said officials have not decided what to do with the execution chamber, which is in Tamms and has not been used since 1999.
Two former death row inmates remain in a maximum security prison at Pontiac, but not in their former death row cells.
Former Illinois Governor George Ryan halted executions in 2000, winning international acclaim from capital punishment opponents.
The death penalty ban makes Illinois the fourth state in the past two years to end capital punishment after New York, New Jersey and New Mexico. Execution will still be an option in 34 states and for federal inmates.
The United States ranked fifth in the number of prisoners put to death in 2009 among the 18 nations that executed people that year. China executed "thousands," according to Amnesty International, followed by Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.
(Reporting by Kyle Peterson; Editing by Greg McCune)