Gov. Kay Ivey halted the state’s executions in a surprise announcement on Monday, ordering a “top-down” review of the state’s execution record after three straight executions have been fraught with problems and controversy.
Advocacy groups and officials across the aisle are praising Ivey’s decision to review the execution process, even as they question Ivey’s message that the pause is out of concern for the victims’ families, not the men being executed.
Following the three-hour execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. earlier this year, a coalition of groups led by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama Arise and Project Hope to introduce the death penalty launched the “Pull Back the Curtains” campaign to demand more transparency in the execution process.
“We are relieved that there will be a review and dismayed that our state is not simply abolishing this archaic and unnecessary punishment,” the coalition said in a statement Monday. “Among other things, this review should at a minimum assess the toll taken on prison officers and establish PTSD support for tortured prisoners and prison officers alike.
“Ivey talks about never wanting to send a murder victim’s family to jail only to go home disappointed that they didn’t see the execution. That is the wrong motivation.”
Instead, the group said the state should look into immediate support for murder victims’ families, rather than promising an execution decades after the crime.
Robyn Hyden, Executive Director of Alabama Arise, asked Attorney General Steve Marshall to agree to the review and suggested several changes to the process.
“The Department of Corrections should complete the thorough review of state death penalty procedures that Ivey requested,” Hyden said. “And the department should draw back the curtains and ensure more public transparency about these procedures.
“Legislators must also do their part to reduce the injustice of Alabama’s death penalty system. They were to retroactively apply the 2017 state ban on judicial transgression, a practice that allowed judges to hand down death sentences despite a jury’s recommendation. The legislature should also require unanimous jury approval to sentence someone to death. And they should allocate state resources to appeals against death sentences, as other states with the death penalty do.
“Our state’s death penalty is broken and should be abolished. That said, these policy changes would be important steps toward reducing the inequalities that permeate the death penalty in Alabama.”