Last month, following a series of botched killings, Gov. Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes took much-needed action, ordering a review of Arizona’s use of the death penalty and halting all pending executions. In her executive order, the Governor noted that the state “has a history of executions that have resulted in serious questions about…protocols and lack of transparency.” I want to thank Governor Hobbs and Attorney General Mayes for their bold, necessary leadership in taking this critical step forward. Now, we must make these changes permanent. It’s time to dismantle Arizona’s machinery of death – forever.
Failures with our capital punishment system are not new. A report in 2006 found serious flaws with the practice. They are also not unique – Arizona is just the latest in a string of states that have illuminated the death penalty’s alarming failures. In 2022, more than one-third of all attempted executions were botched. Alabama, Ohio, and Tennessee have already suspended their use of lethal injection over concerns with the process.
In Arizona, these problems are rampant. In October 2020 – despite ongoing criticisms of crumbling infrastructure in prisons and a reported budget crisis – our Department of Corrections spent a jaw-dropping $1.5 million in taxpayer dollars attempting to acquire vials of lethal injection drugs. A decade before, Arizona purchased an anaesthetic for use in executions from a pharmaceutical manufacturer that operated out of the back of a London driving school – an act so disturbing it prompted the United Kingdom to ban the export of the drugs in question. In 2015, the state tried to import the pharmaceuticals from India, violating federal law (the FDA confiscated the shipment at the Phoenix airport). Arizona has even gone so far as to reauthorize the use of the gas chamber and purchase chemicals used to make hydrogen cyanide – the same method of execution used by the Nazis. This practice is so repulsive it is not used in a single other state and has been called cruel and unusual punishment by a judge in California.
Problems with execution methods are only the beginning of the story. The death penalty is incredibly expensive. It costs an average of $2 million more per case to execute someone than to keep them incarcerated. Capital trials are up to four times as expensive as trials resulting in life imprisonment. That would be one thing if it made Arizona safer. It doesn’t. States that have abolished the death penalty actually have lower homicide rates than those that haven’t. Maintaining capital punishment is a waste of our tax dollars.
Death sentencing is also unacceptably error prone. Ten innocent people have been exonerated from Arizona’s death row, marking one for every four people executed since 1976 – twice the national average. These releases often follow decades of wrongful incarceration. That risk of error should be unacceptable to anyone with a shred of human decency. On top of it, capital punishment is racist in its application. 47 percent of individuals on Arizona’s death row are non-white. Nationwide, Black defendants are four times more likely to be sentenced to death than similarly situated white defendants. Our use of capital punishment flies in the face of any claims we make of having a fair and equal justice system.
Legislators across the country are taking note. In the past three years, Virginia, Colorado, and New Hampshire have joined a growing number of states in abolishing the death penalty. Of the 27 states that still have the practice, only 13 have actually carried out an execution in the last decade. Voters’ opposition to the use of the death penalty is at a record high. And they’re not alone. More than 250 business leaders from around the world, myself included, have signed a declaration calling for the end to capital punishment everywhere – and indicated that their investments are on the line. This cruel and inhumane practice is a stain on our global reputation, threatens future investment and puts the strength of our economy at risk.
Through her executive action, Governor Hobbs has demonstrated real leadership on this issue. But we must go further. A temporary pause is not enough when the harms caused by our system of capital punishment are so egregious and hurt so many. It’s time to abolish Arizona’s death penalty, once and for all.
Michelle Cirocco is Chief Social Responsibility Officer for Televerde and the Executive Director of Televerde Foundation.