ACLU Files FOIA Request to Uncover COVID Impact and Cost of Federal Executions

August 6, 2020 2:15 pm

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a public records request today under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents related to the executions of Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, and Dustin Honken that took place at the Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute in Indiana last month. Specifically, the FOIA seeks information related to the spread of COVID-19 from these super-spreader events, and the cost associated with carrying them out.

“Around the country, people are making tremendous sacrifices to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. “The federal government’s decision to carry out executions — which required the convening of hundreds of people from Indiana and around the country — during this pandemic flew in the face of public health recommendations and underscores the true depravity of this administration. Make no mistake: The federal government put lives at risk in order to carry out its political agenda and distract from its failings, including the failure to keep people safe from this pandemic.

“But carrying out three executions in four days during a deadly pandemic wasn’t just dangerous and gruesome, it was also costly. People around the country are suffering and urgently in need of aid; the public is entitled to know how much of our federal tax money was spent to carry out these executions — which also put so many more lives at risk. The American people deserve to know what is being done in their name.”

Incarceration facilities have become veritable hotspots for the spread of COVID-19, with each of the top 10 hotspots in prisons around the country. Though the Bureau of Prisons has suspended visitation — even by lawyers — in its facilities, it abandoned those safety measures to hold the first federal executions in 17 years during a deadly pandemic. In the weeks prior to the execution, Indiana was not seeing a spike in confirmed cases. Today, after the three back-to-back executions, Vigo County, where Terre Haute is located, has seen a major surge. Despite this data, the federal government seeks to rush forward with four more executions at the end of August and September.

Indiana has seen a spike in coronavirus

The records requested include communications and documents related to the following:

  • The number of COVID-19 tests administered to people incarcerated at the federal prison in Terre Haute and staff and the statistical results of those tests;
  • The number of individuals involved in preparing for and carrying out of the federal executions in July, as well as the number currently planned to be involved in the scheduled August and September executions; and
  • The cost associated with the three executions in July, including the cost of:
    • Transporting staff, witnesses, and media, and/or protesters;
    • Hotels or housing in Terre Haute for victims’ family members, contractors, BOP staff or other law enforcement involved in the executions;
    • Contracts for third party providers related to the execution, including security; and
    • Increased cost to BOP services, including alternate meal plans for 2,600 people incarcerated at Terre Haute.

The FOIA request is online, here.

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