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Electric Chair

Can we really execute criminals in a way that’s not “cruel and unusual punishment?” Maybe, if we stopped over-complicating it.

Last month, it took over two hours to execute Arizona inmate Joseph Wood. He was supposed to die after 50 milligrams each of two lethal drugs; it took 750 milligrams each. This isn’t the first time a lethal injection didn’t go as expected; previous death row inmates have reportedly gasped and snorted for air during botched executions, consciously suffering from a drug-induced choke. In light of all this, lethal injection has been contested as being cruel and unusual punishment, similar to its predecessor, the electric chair.

Last week, a group of Tennessee death row inmates legally challenged the electric chair, Tennessee’s alternative to lethal injection, calling it an “unconstitutional torture device.” Unlike lethal injection, there is no kind of numbing stage in the process of electrocution, leaving the victim to suffer through being cooked alive on the inside and out. Since both lethal injection and electrocution are arguably cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore unconstitutional, what are our alternatives?

Maybe we should stop trying to be so complex about killing people. Rather than strapping someone down and passing drug cocktails or volts of electricity through them until they flat-line, would a gunshot wound to the head not get the job done quicker and less painfully? These overblown procedures that we currently practice have prolonged inmate suffering time and time again, so maybe simplifying things will change that.

In saying all of this, I’m not saying I agree with killing people (systematically or otherwise), but if we’re going to keep practicing capital punishment, the least we can do is not subject inmates to unnecessary suffering. That’s called torture, and that’s cruel and unusual punishment.

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