82 advocacy groups call on Biden to end federal executions

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2020 file photo, the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., is shown Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Dozens of civil rights and advocacy organizations are calling on the Biden administration to immediately halt federal executions after an unprecedented run of capital punishment under President Donald Trump. They want President Joe Biden to commute the sentences of inmates on federal death row.  (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2020 file photo, the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., is shown Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Dozens of civil rights and advocacy organizations are calling on the Biden administration to immediately halt federal executions after an unprecedented run of capital punishment under President Donald Trump. They want President Joe Biden to commute the sentences of inmates on federal death row. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – Dozens of civil rights and advocacy organizations are calling on the Biden administration to immediately halt federal executions after an unprecedented run of capital punishment under President Donald Trump and to commute the sentences of inmates on federal death row.

The organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 80 others, sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Tuesday morning, urging that he act immediately “on your promise of ensuring equality, equity, and justice in our criminal legal system.”

Biden has been systematically undoing many Trump administration policies on climate, immigration and ethics rules. Although he is against the death penalty and has said he will work to end its use, Biden has not commented on what he will do with Trump’s unprecedented push for the federal death penalty. The Bureau of Prisons carried out more executions under Trump, 13, than any previous president.

The reinstated executions began in July as the coronavirus raged through the prisons. An Associated Press analysis found the executions were likely a virus superspreader. About 70% of the inmates on federal death row in addition to prison staff members, employees on the agency’s execution team and witnesses contracted the virus.

The Trump administration carried out the 13 executions in six months, beginning July 14 and ending four days before Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. They were the first federal executions in 17 years, and more were conducted under Trump than in the previous 56 years combined.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that while Biden has spoken about his opposition to the death penalty, she didn’t “have anything to predict for you or preview for you in terms of additional steps.”

The groups say Biden should step in immediately and take action, as his administration works to establish priorities, address systemic racism and overhaul parts of the criminal justice system.

In the letter, the civil rights groups said the use of the death penalty “continues to perpetuate patterns of racial and economic oppression endemic to the American criminal legal system.” A report by the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center said that Black people remain overrepresented on death rows and that Black people who kill white people are far more likely to be sentenced to death than white people who kill Black people.