JPI stands in solidarity with all of those around the country and the world calling on the Trump administration to stop the federal executions due to resume today. The decision by President Trump and Attorney General Barr runs counter to the overall trend in the United States, and worldwide, to abolish the death penalty either by law or in practice.
The scheduled federal executions come as U.S. prisons have proved to be coronavirus hot spots due to the inability to prevent the spread of a highly contagious virus within jails, prisons and youth correctional facilities, endangering incarcerated people, correctional staff and surrounding communities. Concern about COVID-19 in prisons has prompted efforts around the country to reduce the number of incarcerated people, but too few people have been released to stop the spread within correctional facilities.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), as of July 12th 2,938 people incarcerated in federal prisons, and 242 BOP staff, have a confirmed positive test result for COVID-19 nationwide, and tragically 94 incarcerated people, and 1 BOP staff member, have died from COVID-19. At lease one person incarcerated at the Terre Haute federal prison in Indiana has died from COVID-19, the same facility where the federal executions are scheduled to take place.
There is currently a ban on federal prison visitations due to COVID-19, meaning that over 161,600 families have been unable to visit a loved one for months; but the BOP will allow people into the prison to observe the executions. From families of the victims and the person being executed, to clergy and others, with four executions in short order, there may be hundreds of people traveling to Indiana to attend an execution, risking the further contamination and spread of COVID-19.
The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, is applied disproportionately to people of color, and fails to provide effective deterrence to criminal behavior. In short, it is a human rights abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars in the best of times. In the middle of a pandemic and unrest about institutional racism in the justice system, it is unconscionable that the federal government will be resuming executions for the first time in 17 years. JPI stands firmly with those who have been harmed by crime, and those who have caused harm, most of whom are within the same communities, and supports the application of effective, non-lethal, restorative and equitable responses to crime and violence.
The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is dedicated to ending the incarceration generation by reducing reliance on the justice system and using incarceration only as a last resort.