Op-ed: As COVID-19 flares behind bars, now’s not the time for more Terre Haute executions

The following Op-Ed was written by Dr. Nina Harawa, CHIPTS Policy Impact Core Director.  The full article published on indystar.com is available here

Nina T. Harawa
July 8, 2020 6:00 AM

As America labors under the effects of a global pandemic and struggles with decisions about when and how to resume various activities, the Trump administration announced June 15 that the federal government plans to carry out four executions in the coming weeks.

Many Americans may see little connection between the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s decision to resume executions after a 17-year hiatus. In my role as an epidemiologist who is currently part of efforts to address disparities in COVID-19 infections and deaths and who once led infection control efforts for the Los Angeles County jail, I know there is serious cause for concern.

Whether or not you support the death penalty in normal times, the potential for collateral damage from carrying out these executions as coronavirus cases surge should give you pause.

Carrying out an execution is not as simple as putting a person on a gurney and injecting lethal drugs into his system. It requires a highly trained execution team.

It requires the presence of lawyers, both those for the government and those for the defense, to ensure the process is carried out properly. The victim’s family is entitled to be present. The condemned man has the right to have his family and his spiritual adviser at hand. The press is in attendance, documenting and providing a public eye into the otherwise closed proceedings. Workers are responsible for removing the man’s body after he is pronounced dead.

In mid-March, in a necessary bid to reduce the risk of viral spread inside its facilities, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) cancelled all family and legal visits – visits that have still not resumed for most prisoners.

Now, however, because the Trump administration has decided it cannot wait to execute these men, the BOP is willing to risk the health and safety of numerous people both in and outside the prison.

Read more of this op-ed.