Federal executions are set to begin next week for the first time in more than a decade after a months-long legal battle and despite concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
Three executions will take place next week at an Indiana prison by lethal injection, beginning Monday, according to The Associated Press. Per federal guidelines, family members of death row inmates will be allowed to observe the proceedings despite an overall ban on visitors in the prison.
Those visiting will take temperature checks and be asked to wear face masks but will not be tested for COVID-19 before entering the facility, according to the AP. The visitors will also be provided with gloves, gowns and face shields by the Bureau of Prisons, though they are not required to wear the equipment.
This is the first time since 2003 that prisoners will be executed on federal death row.
Critics of the move have said the decision to move forward with the executions is a dangerous and political one, considering more than 130,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the U.S.
Activists argue that the decision highlights the Trump administration's unwillingness to address racial inequality when it comes to the death penalty, and they contend that the federal government has erroneously characterized the executions as an urgent matter.
“The original execution plan last year appeared to be political. And the current plan eliminates any doubt about that,” Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center told the AP.
“Why would anybody who is concerned about public health and safety want to bring in people from all over the country for three separate executions in the span of five days to a virus hot spot?” he added.
The executions come as U.S. prisons have proved to be coronavirus hot spots due to inmates' close contact in cells and other areas. Concern about COVID-19 in prisons has prompted early release of inmates in some states, while others have allowed prisoners to serve time in their homes.
The news also comes as racial injustice and police reform have come to the forefront of national debate after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
In a statement last month announcing the scheduling of execution dates, Attorney General William BarrBill BarrHolding defiant Trump witnesses to account, Jan. 6 committee carries out Congress's constitutional role Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official Appeals court questions Biden DOJ stance on Trump obstruction memo MORE characterized the American public as decidedly supportive of the death penalty. Fifty-four percent of Americans told Gallup in June that they found capital punishment morally acceptable — a record low.
“The American people, acting through Congress and Presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death,” he said.
The first federal inmate set to receive the death penalty next week is Daniel Lee, a 47-year-old white supremacist convicted of killing a family in Arkansas.