Just one month after 56 elected prosecutors released a statement decrying the state of capital punishment in the United States, South Carolina has expanded their means of execution. On March 18, the South Carolina Department of Corrections announced that they had fully renovated a death chamber to accommodate a firing squad.
According to a press release, the electric chair is still the primary method for execution within the state, however now inmates on death row may choose between the chair, lethal injection and firing squad. The announcement goes on to explain that sentences will be carried out by three riflemen who will be out of view of witnesses. The provisions allow for the condemned to make a final statement, but make no mention of whether or not a religious representative can accompany them.
Members of the firing squads will be selected from volunteers already working in the Department of Corrections. Squad members will be selected based on certain shooting qualifications.
The New York Post reports that one of the reasons South Carolina decided to include firing squads is because the state has been struggling to find drugs for lethal injections. There is a nationwide shortage of such drugs and many states are experiencing the same shortages. If the drugs are unavailable by the time of execution, then the condemned must choose between electric chair and firing squad.
A report from NPR notes that the move to add firing squads comes as executions are at an all time low across the country. They point to a report from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), which cites fewer than 30 executions in 2021. Also in 2021, Virginia became the 23rd state in the Union, and the first in the South, to abolish the death penalty.
The DPIC also points out that South Carolina is resuming executions after a 10-year hiatus. The state sentenced two men to death in 2021, but were unable to carry out the sentences due to a lack of options. South Carolina requires multiple means of execution for condemned prisoners to select from. The renovated firing squad chamber was installed in order to offer such a selection so that executions may resume.
The USCCB has yet to release a statement on the development in South Carolina, but the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development has previously stated:
“What does the birth of our Lord say to this?” the statement asked. “The Lord comes not to destroy, but to save. For the Second Sunday of Advent, we hear St. Peter counsel that the Lord ‘is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Pt. 3:9). Can we follow the Lord’s example?”
The Bishops continued, “We are all sinners. Some have done terrible things. Victims need help. Justice is needed for peace. But executions solve nothing.”