California Spent 4 Million Dollars Trying to Kill Prisoner

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One would assume that a state facing a significant financial crisis would choose to spend its resources on practical policies and beneficial projects. Why, then, did California waste $4 million in order to accomplish… nothing? Perhaps that’s unfair; the state did have a goal in mind while spending this money – executing Albert Brown.  Not an admirable goal, and, thankfully, Albert Brown is still alive and in prison.

Why not save the time, funds, and pain associated with the death penalty? As James Clark of Southern California’s ACLU suggests, replacing  the death penalty with life without parole, and requiring people in prison to work and provide restitution to victims’ families, would be a much better use of the state’s time and resources. In California, the current system costs $137 million per year; it would cost $11.5 million for a system without the death penalty. Why is the state so hell-bent on sentencing offenders in the most fiscally irresponsible way possible?

It has been nearly five years since California has put anyone to death, and thanks to a lethal injection drug’s expiration date, it would be at least next year before executions could conceivably resume. Maybe in the upcoming months California officials can be persuaded to make better use of taxpayers’ money, and will stop wasting it on these pointless efforts to kill prisoners.

California Execution Blocked by Two Courts

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California may be keeping its moratorium in place… for now. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel has blocked the Thursday night execution of Albert Brown.  In a separate ruling, the California Supreme Court also blocked Brown’s execution.

Judge Fogel’s decision was a reversal of the one he made last Friday, in which he said Brown’s execution could go forward after Brown himself chose between a single-injection method or a three-drug cocktail. Questions arose, however, when it was discovered that the state’s supply of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic used in executions, is good only until Friday, mere hours after Brown’s scheduled execution. Not only that, but the state only has 7 grams  of the substance on hand.

Earlier, a federal appellate panel had raised concerns about this revelation of the drug’s impending expiration, and wrote: “It is incredible to think that the deliberative process might be driven by the expiration date of the execution drug.”

Judge Fogel noted that the drug’s imminent expiration was a “fact that the defendants did not disclose to this court.” He also said there was “‘no way’ the court could conduct a proper review” before Brown was scheduled to die.

California Rushing to Kill Before Drug Expires

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Now we know why California is in a rush to execute Albert Brown.  His lethal injection, now scheduled for 9 pm on Thursday, September 30, will take place just three hours before California’s supply of one of the drugs  expires.  The drug in question, of course, is sodium thiopental, the same drug that its manufacturer, Hospira, has called on states to stop using for executions.   Sodium thiopental, an anesthetic that has very important medical uses, is currently in short supply; using it to kill rather than to heal should be unacceptable to all, regardless of their position on the death penalty.

Given this mess, the 9th Circuit federal appeals court has asked the judge who earlier denied a stay of execution to reconsider his decision.

Why is California Rushing to Kill Albert Brown?

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California has not put anyone to death in nearly 5 years.  Litigation around the state’s lethal injection procedures has led to a de facto moratorium on executions.  But that moratorium may come to a sudden end this Wednesday, when Albert Greenwood Brown is scheduled to be killed shortly after midnight.

The legal issues surrounding California’s method of killing its prisoners have not been fully resolved, yet the state is asserting that executions should be restarted anyway.  But what for?

California has by far the nation’s largest death row, with over 700 inmates, and soaks its taxpayers for upwards of $100 million per year for the privilege of having a death penalty.  Over $800,000 was spent on a new lethal injection chamber which contains two things – a gurney and a clock.  And hundreds of millions more are going to build a new death row. Capital punishment in California (and elsewhere) is a money pit.  Millions of dollars get tossed in, but nothing good ever comes out.

California taxpayers are beginning to see the death penalty for what it is – a colossal waste of resources.  For a state that doesn’t even have a budget and is currently furloughing workers, devoting such time and energy (and money) to killing a few prisoners who are already locked up for life is not just pointless and cruel.  It also diverts scarce resources that could be directed towards proven crime prevention measures and real support for victims’ families.

At the heart of the controversy that has halted executions in California is the question of how a state can kill its prisoners in a sufficiently humane way.  Of course, there is no answer to that question, because killing prisoners is inherently inhumane.  The sooner the state of California recognizes this fact and does away with its death penalty, the sooner they will be able to focus on policies that actually do some good.