The good news for opponents of the death penalty is that its use in the United States continued to decline in 2022. The bad news is that many of the executions that did take place appear to have been botched by officials who subjected prisoners to cruel torment.
Those are the main takeaways from the Death Penalty Information Center’s (DPIC) annual year-end report. It shows that American states are increasingly turning away from executions, but that in those states where capital punishment still happens, there’s been a turn toward cruelty and secrecy in the relevant government agencies.
Six states—Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas, Missouri, Arizona, and Mississippi—executed 18 people in 2022. That’s an increase over the 11 people executed in 2021, but both numbers are low relative to the last decade. For eight consecutive years, states have performed fewer than 30 executions annually and issued fewer than 50 new death penalty sentences annually. Federal executions were halted entirely when President Joe Biden took office.
The downturn may not be permanent. Oklahoma halted executions in 2015 temporarily after a series of problems with the drugs that led to one man groaning and struggling as the drugs took hold in 2014 and a case in 2015 where they received the wrong drug entirely. In 2020, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Oklahoma would restart executions using those very same drugs. In 2021, Oklahoma executed its first two inmates in years. During the first of those executions, John Marion Grant reportedly convulsed and vomited before he died. In 2022, Oklahoma executed five inmates, making the state responsible for nearly a third of all executions.
And if the state gets its way, there will be many more to come in 2023. In June, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor started planning 25 executions over the next few years. According to DPIC, the state has 11 planned for next year and 10 in 2024.