Guilt, Shame and Mental Torment

Ohio’s Governor DeWine has postponed two more executions because of difficulties obtaining drugs; there are now no executions scheduled in Ohio before March next year.

At the Chillicothe Correctional Institution where death row is housed, the relief of the inmates at the respite will be shared by the staff.

A former commissioner of Departments of Corrections in several US states has spoken out against the terrible impact of capital punishment on prison staff.

Allen L. Ault claims that post-traumatic stress is even worse for correctional staff involved with capital punishment than it is for battlefield veterans.  This, he believes, is because during executions the person to be killed is “a known human being who is totally defenseless when brought into the death chamber” and “poses no threat to them personally”.

Ault maintains that the “feelings of guilt, shame and mental torment” extend beyond the execution team to other prison staff. Correctional staff often form meaningful relationships over many years with inmates, supporting them as they mature and develop remorse; inevitably those staff are affected when an inmate is then killed. Ault adds that the damage spreads still further, causing “depression, anxiety and other mental and physical impacts” even in staff working in other parts of the prison.

How much greater must this trauma be where the person to be executed has a strong claim of innocence, as Jeffrey Wogenstahl has.

No civilized society should inflict this trauma on its citizens. If for no other reason, the death penalty should end.

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