Andrea Lyon: For Trump and Barr, executions are a statement
The death penalty does not deter crime. It does not make our society safer. It is not imposed on “the worst of the worst.” Yes, the individuals on death row committed serious crimes and should be severely punished for their actions. But the men I have known who were sentenced to death were poor, mentally ill, and severely abused. Executing them was just more injustice.
There is another significant reason not to move forward with federal executions, one that should matter greatly to Trump: He would protect the men and women who work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons from the devastating effects of participating in an execution. I still live with those effects. My colleagues and I experienced long-term repercussions from the process of practicing, over and over, to kill someone; from the stress and anxiety of worrying about a possible botched execution; and then, even when things went “smoothly,” from the aftereffects of knowing that we had used our own hands, and the power of our position, to take a human life. I had many sleepless nights following those executions.
The government’s proposed highly condensed execution schedule increases the chances of an error occurring. Several other factors further heighten that risk. The federal government has not carried out an execution in 16 years, and will be implementing a brand-new lethal-injection protocol. This is a situation that calls for caution, with ample time for training and debriefing—not a rush to conduct multiple executions in a short time. These concerns are reflected in the injunction order entered on November 20, in which Judge Tanya Chutkan wrote: “The public is not served by short-circuiting legitimate judicial process, and is greatly served by attempting to ensure that the most serious punishment is imposed lawfully.” Additionally, the recent leadership change and chronic staffing shortages at the Bureau of Prisons have contributed to an unsettled atmosphere and suggest that the bureau’s resources might be better spent addressing the systemic issues it faces than carrying out executions with a new protocol.
Read: The cruel and unusual execution of Clayton Lockett
I know many good, professional people who work at the Bureau of Prisons. They have undertaken difficult and dangerous jobs, and they know and accept the challenges of managing dangerous prisoners. From my decades of experience in this profession, I can say with confidence that the death penalty does nothing to protect prison employees or other prisoners. Instead, it drains resources that could be used for training, infrastructure improvements, rehabilitation, mental-health treatment, and other things that actually make prisons safer.
Federal resources also would serve the general public better if they were redirected to meeting the needs of the families and friends of the victims of homicides, while ensuring that the perpetrators were safely housed in prison for the rest of their life. For all these reasons, the government should not bring back federal executions.