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Prison Guards and the Death Penalty

This is an excellent primer on how correctional officers are deeply impacted by working on death row. It is essential reading for corrections professionals, policymakers, and the public. Sections of this paper include: introduction; guards on death row; interactions with prisoners; guards at executions; and conclusion. "Like murder, execution inflicts emotional and psychological damage on those linked to it. This can begin with anticipatory trauma when a court sets an execution date and the impact can remain even years after an execution. Prison guards, who most closely interact with condemned prisoners on a daily basis, are particularly affected, including and especially those acting as executioners. The death penalty compounds the anxiety and depression to which prison guards are already especially vulnerable (over a quarter of all US prison employees suffer from depression36 - three times the level in the general US population). Given such negative aspects to the work, executing nations use enticements and punishments to keep guards in execution service ... Alternatively, they may try to dissuade guards from quitting by using ridicule, bullying or demotion: one guard was given "weird duty, weird hours" after asking to be removed from the execution team, while others reported being threatened with lower paying, lower status jobs. The exposure of guards to executions and anticipated executions should therefore be a matter of serious concern to prison administrations, which have a responsibility towards the wellbeing of their staff. The unacknowledged stress experienced by guards on death rows and execution teams risks dangerous mental health consequences for them and those around them. The simplest (and best) solution would be to remove the cause of the problem and abolish the death penalty" (p. 3).