A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center indicates one positive trend in the United States’ bloated criminal justice system: the number of prisoners judicially killed is at its lowest in nearly 20 years.
Over the course of 2016, only 20 inmates have been executed. Compared to 1999 – which peaked at 98 – this is a marked drop off.
The potential explanations are manifold. The country’s highest rate of executions were in the late 1990s, when fear about drugs and urban crime reached a fever pitch. These days, there are simply fewer sentences mandating capital punishment.
But, perhaps most significantly, drug manufactures that produce the various components of the lethal injection cocktail most widely used in executions have refused to sell their products to US state governments. Even the US-based Phizer has prevented the use of its drugs for capital punishment.
The brutality and inhumane spectacles that capital punishment causes, however, still persists, even though the number of cases may be lower. Without access to sufficiently lethal drug cocktails, authorities in various states have executed prisoners using experimental combinations that have had appalling ramifications. Earlier this month, Missouri executed Ronald Smith using a highly suspect drug. Smith purportedly coughed and heaved for more than 10 minutes before passing.