What’s the matter with Arkansas?

Last week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson created global headlines when he announced plans for eight executions by lethal injection, the first in his state since 2005, to take place in a matter of days at the end of April. 

As it turned out, the main reason for the governor’s rush to action is the impending expiration of the state’s supply of midazolam, a sedative that has been controversially used in executions across the US – often with gruesome results. The fact that a simple product expiration date can push Arkansas' death penalty system into such high gear should be cause for great concern. But that's not the only reason why Arkansans of all political stripes should seek to stop this. 

To be honest, I’ve never made a secret of my disdain for the death penalty. I think it’s barbaric, inhumane, and should have no place in modern society. Study after study has shown that it doesn’t deter violent crime. It is disproportionately imposed on minorities, on the poor, or on people suffering from mental illness.  And it is irreversible: nearly 160 people have been exonerated and freed from death row in the US since 1976, making me wonder how many of those executed were actually innocent. Yet despite these well-documented problems and risks, politicians seem keen to keep this costly and faulty death machine running. 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not disputing that the eight men now scheduled to die may have committed serious crimes that continue to cause immense pain and suffering to the families of their victims. But there are more effective, non-lethal ways of delivering justice and ensuring public safety that also impose less of a burden on Arkansas taxpayers. 

And those Arkansas taxpayers should be concerned for another reason: their governor's decision is bad for business. Last summer, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) opened an office in Berlin, seeking to improve trade relations in Europe and attract investment. The AEDC promotes Arkansas as a place where investors and trading partners will find “good company”. Considering last week's news and the drawn-out court battles that preceded it, I think many potential Investors will question the governor's priorities. The impression of a state wasting its resources and its good name on what has been dubbed a "mass execution" seems utterly irresponsible and counterproductive. Some may wonder if such volatile decision-making is a sign of poor governance. Many European businesses will find it irreconcilable with their commitments to responsible investment.

On top of that, Arkansas' execution secrecy laws, withholding drug suppliers' names from the public, are designed to circumvent private contracts introduced by healthcare companies to stop the sale of drugs to death rows. They suggest the state cares more about the killing of prisoners than it does about the integrity of private contracts - another red flag for any business. 

These are not partisan concerns. They should matter to conservatives and liberals alike. What's at stake is the economic future of the state of Arkansas. And job creation and growth are still the best ways of keeping crime low and Arkansas safe. 

Please contact Governor Hutchinson - call on +1 (501) 682-2345 or tweet @AsaHutchinson - and ask him to reconsider his decision.


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