In a letter to Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, dated January 13, 2023, nine former Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) officials called attention to the trauma experienced by prison staff from repeated executions. The “relentless pace of executions means the prison never really returns to normal operations after the emotional and logistical upheaval of an execution,” explained the officials. “Indeed, reports from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary describe near-constant mock executions being conducted within earshot of prisoners’ cells, staff offices, and visiting rooms.”

Their letter urged the state to space out executions further for the well-being of employees, who are already experiencing “lasting trauma” from the then-existing schedule. The state had previously set dates for 25 executions over a 29-month period. On January 17, the Attorney General requested a 60-day delay between each of the next seven executions.

The former ODOC officials also stated that such a fast pace increases the likelihood of a botched execution: “This compressed execution schedule also increases the risk of something going wrong during the execution process because the stress created by each execution compounds the difficulty of an already complex procedure. If even a routine execution can inflict lasting harm on corrections staff, the traumatic impact of a botched execution is exponentially worse. Oklahoma has experienced this harm on multiple occasions and should not needlessly place its hardworking correctional staff at risk of another such mistake.”

“The psychological toll of carrying out a death sentence is well-documented… Post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and even suicide increase among corrections staff following proximity to an execution, even among those who did not participate directly,” the officials wrote.

In DPIC’s February 2023 edition of Discussions with DPIC, former Oregon Superintendent of Prisons Frank Thompson also explained how the execution process created “an additional group of victims” among correctional staff.


Ashlynd Huffman, Relentless Pace’ of Oklahoma Executions Traumatized Corrections Staff, Former Directors Say, Oklahoma Watch, Feb 162023

Read the let­ter from for­mer Oklahoma Department of Corrections officials.