by Max Brantley
Arkansas’ recent spate of executions of prisoners on death row, conducted with the use of nearly expired and improperly obtained drugs, was marred by reports that the drugs used were ineffective and caused the inmates to suffer. But uncertainty about what happened to inmates in the death chamber illustrates the need for greater reporter access to these events — life and death stories for which they may be the only impartial witness.Arkansas's housing of the condemned, preparations for execution and the executions themselves are all under strict control — often meaning secrecy — by law and the state Correction Department.
Journalism is instrumental in bringing awareness to, and holding states accountable for, executions that have potentially violated prisoners’ 8th amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment. An estimated 3 percent of executions from 1890-2010 have been botched in some way, with lethal injection yielding the highest percentage of botched executions. The stakes are high for inmates, their families, and the country. Arkansas and other states that conduct executions should at least let the media fully bear witness.