Calling capital punishment in the U.S. “broken,” 56 elected prosecutors from across the country have issued a joint statement urging systemic changes to end the death penalty nationwide. As an initial step, the prosecutors pledged to not seek the death penalty “against people with intellectual disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, histories of traumatic brain injury, or other intellectual or cognitive challenges that diminish their ability to fully understand and regulate their own actions.”

The statement was released on February 17, 2022 by Fair and Just Prosecution, a bipartisan network of reform prosecutors that, according to its website, is dedicated to promoting “fairness, equity, compassion, and fiscal responsibility” in the administration of criminal laws. The prosecutors who signed the joint statement, largely democratic, represent metropolitan and rural counties in 26 states, 11 of which have the death penalty, as well as the District of Columbia and the Northern Mariana Islands.

“Many of us have been on the frontlines of the effort to reform the American death penalty. Others have witnessed — and in some cases been directly involved in — prosecutorial efforts to seek capital punishment,” the statement says. “Although we hold varied opinions surrounding the death penalty and hail from jurisdictions with different starting points on the propriety of this sentence, we have all now arrived at the same inexorable conclusion: our country’s system of capital punishment is broken. It is time to work together toward systemic changes that will bring about the elimination of the death penalty nationwide.”

Miriam Krinsky, the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, told NBC News that the “tough-on-crime” policies of prosecutors over the last several decades have fueled a death-penalty system that has disproportionately affected people of color and has executed people who may have been innocent. “Now, for [prosecutors] to bring their voices together in an unexpected way and to turn back that tide is significant,” Krinsky said. “Our hope is they will be change agents in their states. Fifty-six of them coming together is a powerful number.”

The signatories include district attorneys from six counties — Los Angeles, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Dallas, Texas; Santa Clara, California; Pima (Tucson), Arizona; and Hillsborough (Tampa), Florida — that, a decade ago, collectively accounted for 14% of the country’s death-row prisoners. Each was among the 1% of counties with the largest death-row populations in the U.S. They also include Republican District Attorneys Sim Gill of Salt Lake County, Utah, and Christian Gossett of Winnebago County, Wisconsin.

In addition to refusing to seek the death penalty against the most vulnerable and least morally culpable defendants, the prosecutors pledged in the joint statement to support efforts to overturn existing death sentences in cases involving plausible legal claims of innocence, racial bias, egregiously inadequate or negligent defense counsel, discovery violations, or other misconduct. Further, the prosecutors wrote, the death penalty is expensive and ineffective as an instrument of public safety. “[W]e have a capital punishment system that costs taxpayers over $1 million per death sentence,” they wrote, “fails as an effective deterrent, and does not reduce crime.”

Despite “countless reform efforts,” the prosecutors wrote, the death penalty has failed to live up to the constitutional promise that it would be reserved for “only the so-called ‘worst of the worst.’” Instead, nearly 50 years after the Supreme Court struck down existing capital punishment laws as arbitrarily administered, “the death penalty still targets not the worst of the worst, but rather the unluckiest of the unluckiest: people who endured sexual abuse and other unspeakable trauma as children; people with long histories of severe mental illness or traumatic brain injuries, including people struggling with PTSD after serving in the military; people who committed crimes during a psychotic break they can’t even remember; people who, because of incomplete cognitive development or other intellectual disability, have never been able to fully function as adults; and people with trial lawyers so derelict in their duties and obligations that they never bothered to uncover long histories of illness and trauma. This, tragically, is the profile of death row in America.”

Racial bias, the joint statement said, is also deeply embedded within the U.S. capital punishment system. “Black defendants accused of crimes against white victims are far more likely to receive the death penalty than other groups” and are disproportionately executed, they wrote. The system, they said, also disproportionately values white victims. “Strikingly,” the prosecutors note, “while about 76% of all death penalty cases involve white victims, only one-half of all murder victims are white.”

The prosecutors wrote that capital punishment in the U.S. “is particularly unconscionable given that we know our system too often convicts innocent people.” Citing the Death Penalty Information Center’s exoneration data, they observe that “[a]t least 186 people on death row have been exonerated over the last half-century,” more than one for every nine people who have been executed. “[W]e will never know how many innocent people we have executed,” they wrote.

The joint statement concludes: “As elected prosecutors, we serve as ministers of justice and are obligated to seek outcomes that advance equity, fairness, community safety, and the rule of law. And we are also obligated to reject arbitrariness, racism, and cruelty. We pledge to abide by these obligations by refusing to seek the death penalty against individuals with cognitive impairments or otherwise diminished culpability. And we further commit to work toward the elimination of our nation’s failed death penalty system, once and for all.”