Even with all the problems plaguing Tennessee’s death penalty system, according to an article in today’s Tennessean, the state appears to be preparing to resume executions.
The Tennessee Department of Correction recently announced that it would use pentobarbital in upcoming executions, replacing the three-drug protocol that the state has used in the past. Pentobarbital has never been used to execute inmates in Tennessee.
Last session, the Tennessee General Assembly also passed a law making confidential the identity of “a person or entity involved in the procurement or provision of chemicals, equipment, supplies and other items for use in carrying out a death sentence.” (SB 154) This law was passed in response to the seizure of the state’s lethal injection drugs in 2011 because the drugs were imported improperly from questionable sources.
And if all these issues are not problematic enough, the state has yet to address the fact that of 93 guidelines for a fair and accurate system set out by the American Bar Association, Tennessee fully complies with only seven. To date, Tennessee has also released four individuals from death row when strong evidence of their innocence emerged. This means that we have executed six people in the modern era of the death penalty and released four because we were wrong.
Is this a system worth trusting to determine who lives and dies? With alternatives available in Tennessee, why do we keep wasting our energy and resources on such a mess? Why don’t we refocus our energy, resources, and attention on providing for the needs of victims’ families, solving cold cases, providing access to mental heath care, drug treatment, and education–things we know help to prevent crime. When will we learn that the death penalty is a failed policy that leads us nowhere but to more violence, hurt, and waste. We can and must do better.
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