Advocates for criminal justice reform are warning that the Trump administration is trying to “rush through” as many federal executions as they can before leaving office. Activists say that this could be due to the fact that ending capital punishment was one of Joe Biden’s campaign promises
On Monday, Sister Helen Prejean, the long-time death penalty abolition advocate who was the inspiration for the film Dead Man Walking, said that the Department of Justice is planning new executions after just recently bringing back the death penalty.
Last week, in a joint letter to Attorney General William Barr, a group of Democratic senators also expressed concern about the administration’s recent actions on capital punishment, according to the Independent.
The letter stated that:
“President-elect Biden’s plan for strengthening America’s commitment to justice includes the elimination of the federal death penalty and Vice-President-elect Harris is an original cosponsor of legislation we have introduced to eliminate the federal death penalty. A record number of Americans voted in favor of [Biden and Harris] and they deserve an opportunity to implement their policy agenda without the Trump administration rushing to take preemptive and irreversible steps.”
There was a 17-year pause on federal executions in the United States until this summer when the Trump Administration resumed the practice. Over the summer, seven people were executed since the rules were changed. There hadn’t been a federal execution since 2003 until the Trump administration took office. Before 2003, only three people had been executed by the federal government in the past 50 years, according to the Bureau of Prisons data.
Three new executions are now scheduled between November and December, including the first woman in 67 years.
All three of the inmates are fighting in the courts to have their executions delayed until the incoming administration takes office.
Despite his terrible record on criminal justice, president-elect Joe Biden promises that he will eliminate capital punishment.
The polling organization Gallup has monitored support for the death penalty in the United States since 1937 by asking “Are you in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder?” Gallup surveys documented a sharp increase in support for capital punishment between 1966 and 1994.
However, support began to fall from 80% in 1994 to 56% in 2019. Experts credit this change in attitude to a large number of exonerations for death row inmates that took place when DNA technology was able to prove their innocence. DNA evidence proved how many people were in jail for crimes they didn’t commit and it made people think twice about supporting the death penalty.
In November 2009, another Gallup poll found that 77% of Americans believed that the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, should receive the death penalty if convicted, which was 12 points higher than the rate of general support for the death penalty on other surveys. A similar result was found in 2001 when a poll asked about the execution of Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
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