The U.S. Department Of Justice To Begin Using Capital Punishment Following Nearly Two-Decade Break

The announcement from Attorney General William Barr comes 16 years after the federal government last executed a prisoner on death row.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks at the International Conference on Cyber Security in July.
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The announcement from Attorney General William Barr comes 16 years after the federal government last executed a prisoner on death row.

It’s been over 15 years since the federal government used capital punishment on prisoners, but the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that it would be resuming the practice, per The Washington Post.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions for five men currently on death row. As The Washington Post noted, all men are convicted of killing children.

Barr said in a statement Thursday that the Justice Department “upholds the rule of law,” and that the U.S. government owes it to the victims involved in the cases to carry out the punishment on the individuals.

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the president,” Barr said, per NBC News.

The executions are scheduled to begin in December of this year and continue into January 2020, per NBC News. Former President Obama announced in 2014 a review of the federal government’s lethal injection protocol, per NBC News.

Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder had a personal opposition to the death penalty, though he allowed federal prosecutors to go after the harshest penalty allowed by law in certain cases, The Washington Post reported.

The decision comes at a time when nearly all Democratic candidates for president have made eliminating the death penalty part of their criminal justice reform policies. Former Vice President Joe Biden announced a plan Tuesday that would introduce reforms to the criminal justice system. Despite his previous vocal support of capital punishment, his plan calls for the elimination of the death penalty at the federal level, Politico notes.

According to The New York Times, every 2020 Democrat candidate for president interviewed said they opposed capital punishment except for Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana.

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The current president, though, has been a longtime proponent of capital punishment. In 1989, Trump took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times calling to “Bring Back The Death Penalty” in the case of the Central Park Five, a group of five black teens who were convicted of attacking a jogger in New York City’s Central Park. The men were later exonerated by DNA evidence, though the now-president refused to apologize, per The Wrap.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are 62 individuals currently on death row in federal prison. Just one of them is female. Twenty-seven are white, 26 are black, seven are Latino, one is Native American and one is Asian.

As NBC News notes, two of the current inmates on federal death row are Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted in the bombing of the 2013 Boston marathon, which killed three people, and Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who in 2015 killed nine black people in a church in South Carolina.