Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who leaves office at the beginning of the year, has commuted the death sentences of all 17 inmates facing capital punishment in the state, leaving them to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Democrat said she decided to use her executive clemency powers to commute the sentences because she believes capital punishment is immoral.
“I have long believed that justice is not advanced by taking a life, and the state should not be in the business of executing people, even if a terrible crime placed them in prison,” Brown, who leaves office in January after reaching the term limit of eight years as governor, said in statement.
Legal and ethical questions have swirled around capital punishment in the United States in recent years as states have found it difficult to procure drugs to carry out the death penalty. Several executions have been botched.
Vikki Breese-Iverson, the Republican leader in the Oregon House of Representatives, said Brown took executive action with no input from lawmakers and the public.
“Her decisions do not consider the impact the victims and families will suffer in the months and years to come,” Breese-Iverson said in a statement, noting that the state has not carried out an execution since 1997.
In 2011, then-Governor John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on executions. Nine years later, the state’s department of corrections closed its death row and reassigned condemned inmates to special or general population housing units.
States have increasingly moved away from execution over the last two decades. In 1999, states carried out 98 executions, a 40-year high. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and policy changes, the number of executions in 2021 fell to 11, the fewest since 1988.