The U.S. government is poised to carry out the death penalty for the first time in nearly two decades, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has instructed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to change the federal execution protocol to include capital punishment, the Justice Department said.

Barr also asked the prisons bureau to schedule the executions of five inmates who were found guilty of murder. According to the DOJ, the victims in each case included children and the elderly. In some of the cases, the convicted murderers also tortured and raped their victims.

"The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system," Barr said in a statement.

The federal execution protocol had previously utilized a three-drug cocktail; the DOJ says that it will now use just one drug, pentobarbital.

The first of the federal executions is scheduled to take place on Dec. 9. Daniel Lewis Lee was found guilty of murdering three members of a family, including an eight-year-old child. According to the DOJ, Lee is a member of a white supremacist group, and he was convicted by a jury at a federal court in Arkansas in 1999.

In the past 10 years, at least five states — New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland and New Hampshire — have abolished the death penalty, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And in March, California Gov. Gavin Newsom put an executive moratorium on his state's death penalty.

In two more states — Washington and Delaware — courts recently ruled that their capital punishment laws are unconstitutional.

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