Number of Executions in US Increases, Reaching a Five-Year Peak – Report

Amnesty International has condemned the country’s “chilling commitment to the death penalty”

The US executed more prisoners last year than in any year since 2018, according to an Amnesty International report released on Wednesday. Globally, executions soared to their highest number in almost a decade.

Some 24 people were executed in the US in 2023, an increase of 33% from the 18 who were put to death in 2022. Executions have become increasingly rare in the US since 98 convicts were put to death in 1999, and last year’s figure is the highest since 2018, when 25 capital punishments were carried out.

Among those put to death in the US last year was Amber McLaughlin, the first transgender woman to be executed in the US. A murderer and rapist, McLaughlin was executed in Missouri in January 2023. All 24 executions were carried out by state authorities using lethal injection. 

Some 27 US states and the federal government practice capital punishment, with lethal injection the primary method of execution. However, botched lethal injections are not uncommon, and autopsy data suggests that the method is often excruciatingly painful. The pharmaceutical firm that manufactures the anesthetic most commonly used in executions suspended production in 2009, and with remaining batches mostly expired, states have turned to alternate methods in recent years.

Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah now permit executions by firing squad, while Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee allow the use of the electric chair. Seven states, including Alabama, allow the use of gas chambers. 

“A select number of US states demonstrated a chilling commitment to the death penalty and a callous intent to invest resources in the taking of human life,” Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said in a statement. 

“Executions via the cruel new method of nitrogen asphyxiation have also come into use with Alabama shamefully using this untested method to kill Kenneth Smith earlier this year,” she added, referring to the first-of-its-kind gassing of murderer Kenneth Smith in January. Alabama authorities authorized the use of nitrogen gas due to a shortage of lethal injection chemicals.

Globally, Amnesty International estimated that 1,153 executions were carried out in 2023, an increase of more than 30% from 2022 and the highest figure recorded since 2015, when 1,634 people were known to have been executed.