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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is moving ahead with its plan to resume federal executions next week for the first time in more than 15 years, despite the coronavirus pandemic raging both inside and outside prisons and stagnating national support for the death penalty.

Three people are scheduled to die by lethal injection in one week at an Indiana prison, beginning Monday. Bureau of Prisons officials insist they will be able to conduct the executions safely and have been holding practice drills for months.

Family members of the victims and the inmates will be able to attend but will be required to wear face masks. Prison officials will take temperature checks. The agency will also make personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves, gowns, and face shields, available for witnesses, officials said.

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The decision to go ahead with the executions has been criticized as a dangerous and political move by an administration. Critics argue the government is instead creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency around a topic that isn’t high on the list of American concerns right now, when more than 130,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the United States and the unemployment rate is 11 percent.

Attorney General William Barr has denied politics played a role in the decision last year to resume executions, which ended an informal freeze on federal capital punishment.

Associated Press