December 16, 2022 | A new report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) describes 2022 as “the year of botched executions.” But this year-end report does not issue only bad news; 2022 saw several great advances to death penalty abolition.
Botched and Problematic Executions
Evidenced by the details in the Death Penalty Information Center’s 2022 Annual Report, there have been numerous botched and problematic executions this year. In multiple states, these botched executions have led to an evaluation of the ethicality and efficacy of state-sanctioned death. Such reviews are often hidden behind a veil of secrecy.
In November 2022, all Alabama executions were put on hold for a “top-to-bottom” review of the state’s lethal injection protocol. Governor Kay Ivey issued this order following the back-to-back failed executions of Alan Miller and Kenneth Smith.
Similarly, in May, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee paused all executions for the remainder of 2022 and ordered an “independent review” of the state’s execution protocol amid concerns of mistakes and questionable conduct surrounding lethal injections.
Outlier States Retain the Death Penalty
As the DPIC report makes clear, the handful of states which continue to use the deadly practice of capital punishment are outliers. More than half of this year’s executions were reported to take place in Oklahoma and Texas.
The vast majority of states no longer have any interest in executions. Nationally, 37 states have either completely outlawed the death penalty or have otherwise gone more than 10 years without an execution. Additionally, DPIC reports that this was the eighth consecutive year with fewer than 30 executions and 50 new death sentences.
The insistence on death by the handful of states which continue executions lacks regard for the grotesque manner at which that death is often achieved. And in the several instances of failed executions this year, there has been limited acknowledgment of that trauma which such an encounter with death inflicts.
Growing Opposition to Capital Punishment
There are many reasons the United states is trending away from the use of the death penalty, but most come down to an increased awareness of the systemic failures endemic to our capital punishment system — failures like racial bias, wrongful conviction, and the targeting of vulnerable populations like individuals with intellectual disabilities or histories of trauma and abuse. There is a growing consensus among Catholics and people of goodwill who reject the false notion that a death sentence brings any sort of true justice.
The Catholic Church in the United States has long stood firmly in opposition to the death penalty. Pope Francis, himself, has been an outspoken pastoral leader on this issue, catalyzing the revision of the catechism in 2018 to clarify the Church’s position on capital punishment as “inadmissable” in all cases. Just three months ago, the Holy Father declared global death penalty abolition as his monthly prayer intention.
Advancements in Death Penalty Abolition
With just days remaining in 2022, Oregon’s outgoing governor, Kate Brown, commuted the death sentences of all 17 people on the state’s death row. It has been made clear that in the coming week, the Governor of Nevada wishes to do the same.
This kind of courageous leadership ought to inspire others at the state and federal level in 2023.
And in April, Kentucky became the second state in the nation to pass a bill excluding the use of the death penalty for people with serious mental illness.
Looking Ahead to 2023
2023 will require the continued mobilization of Catholics and people of goodwill around the issue of the death penalty. Oklahoma is a key focus area; the state is in the thick of an execution spree that threatens to claim the lives of 25 individuals before Christmas 2024. Already, three men have been killed in this march towards death, in addition to the two men Oklahoma executed at the beginning of 2022.
The successes and challenges of 2022 are reminders that we must be stronger than ever in working with fierce determination and grounded hope toward more life-affirming approaches to justice.