Prison Officers Traumatized by Rate of Executions in US Death Penalty States

Robert Dunham on X: "The Death Penalty in 2022—More than two-thirds of the  people executed in the U.S. in 2022 had significant mental illness, brain  damage or intellectual disabilities, and/or had experienced

Journalist Ed Pilkington of The Guardian reports that the pursuit of non-stop executions is causing psychological distress to corrections staff. Traumatized corrections officers are appealing for help.


Capital punishment is generally on the wane in America. Only five states carried out executions last year. However, those states that remain active are showing a renewed determination. In some states, the pace of judicial killings is now so intense that prison guards are kept in an almost permanent state of readiness.


In 2007, two South Carolina COs who developed obsessive-compulsive behavior, nightmares, and other emotional disturbances filed civil lawsuits, claiming that their conditions resulted from performing executions. The COs alleged that they were coerced into carrying out executions and were not given any debriefing or counseling to help them deal with the emotional effects.

In Oklahoma, 25 executions happened in 2022. Officers at the state penitentiary are so stretched by the pace that state officials have sought a more staggered approach. They have requested that the gap between executions be widened from 60 to 90 days, so far to no avail.

Judicial killings were halted in the state for six years after the gruesome execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014. He writhed and groaned on the gurney for 43 minutes. Despite such concerns, calls for the brakes to be applied to Oklahoma’s breakneck execution schedule have so far failed. An appeals court judge responded to the request to extend the space between killings to 90 days by telling staff to “suck it up” and “man up”.

The comments have dismayed and angered current and former staff. Bobby Cleveland, executive director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, which advocates for prison staff, said that members were outraged. “They are really mad that a judge would make that kind of comment. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a corrections officer.”

The chair of the criminal justice and corrections committee in the state assembly, Justin “JJ” Humphrey, was also scathing about Judge Gary Lumpkin’s remarks.

“To talk about executing somebody, and just ‘suck it up’ – that’s a pretty callous statement . . . Anybody that thinks that executing somebody is no problem has not been a part of the process.” ~Justin “JJ” Humphrey, Chair of the Oklahoma Criminal Justice & Corrections Committee

Staff and death row inmates often spend years in close proximity. More than half of all prisoners on death row have been there for more than 18 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Over time, a cold-blooded murderer can mature and change. That was the case with Brian Dorsey, 51, who was sentenced to death in Missouri for killing his cousin and her husband.

The article also quotes Missouri prison officials, more than 60 of whom sought clemency for prisoner Brian Dorsey. Governor Mike Parson rejected their pleas and allowed Mr. Dorsey to be executed on April 9, 2024.

Tim Lancaster, a retired corrections officer, said, “You’re working with a prisoner for 10 years, you’ve interacted with them every single day, and you can feel they’ve changed. They’ve really rehabilitated, and that’s the department’s goal – to rehabilitate offenders. … All of a sudden they flip the switch, and now it’s like: ‘OK, we’re going ahead and killing them. There has to be an underlying effect from that, without a doubt.”

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