Thirty-one states allow for the death penalty, but only five carried out executions last year. Arkansas is rushing to execute death row inmates at an unprecedented pace this month, before the state’s supply of lethal drugs expires, reports NPR. Nationwide, the execution total is down as states struggle to obtain execution drugs that pass constitutional muster. Pharmacies are refusing to provide the deadly combinations of paralytics and fast-acting sedatives needed to put prisoners to death. “I’ll admit, it’s more and more difficult to carry out the sentence of the death penalty,” says Andy Gipson, chairman of a Mississippi House judiciary panel. Mississippi hasn’t executed anyone since 2012. “It’s been a huge problem,” he says. “We try to see if we can come up with another suitable formula of injection that will be humane, and then another lawsuit gets filed to say we can’t do that either.”
Should its lethal injection protocol not stand, the state plans to use an old-school execution method like the gas chamber, the electric chair or a firing squad. Utah also allows for the firing squad, and Alabama, Florida and Tennessee have brought back the electric chair. “There’s been a precipitous decline in the number of both executions and death sentences in the last five years,” says Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. “Executions have been concentrated in a small number of southern states,” he says. “The rest of the country is largely not carrying out executions. If they do, they’re doing so rarely.” Twenty people were put to death last year — the fewest since 1991 — all in Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Florida and Missouri.