COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons may slow the Trump administration's plans to continue executing federal prisoners on death row.
Already this year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has executed 10 people on death row, and is slated to execute three more before President Trump leaves office. The uptick comes despite coronavirus outbreaks among death row inmates and execution workers, and amid a lawsuit from Indiana prisoners demanding the executions be paused to prevent further spread, The New York Times reports.
Before this year, a federal execution hadn't taken place in the U.S. in 17 years; State executions have fallen over the past several years as well. All 10 of those killed by the government this year happened at the Terre Haute prison in Indiana, where fewer than 50 of the prison's 1,239 inmates are on death row. A total of 252 prisoners at Terre Haute have tested positive for COVID-19, and 14 of them are on death row, the Bureau of Prisons has reported. Two of those with the virus are scheduled to be executed in December.
After the November 14 execution of Orlando Hall, the bureau also said eight people who had traveled to Terre Haute for the execution had contracted the virus. Five of those people were expected to return to Terre Haute in December for two more executions. In response, prisoners sued the Justice Department to contend the executions will only further spread the virus. The virus recently led to the postponement of the execution of a third person — Lisa Montgomery, who isn't held at Terre Haute and hasn't tested positive — until January.
A fifth of state and federal prisoners and a fifth of prison workers in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press revealed last week. In Indiana, one in ten prisoners have contracted the virus.