Add to the list of topics for public discussion the high cost of dying.
The American-Statesman's Mike Ward reported last week that the cost of
chemicals used to execute condemned inmates has jumped from $83.35 to $1,286.86
The high cost of the drugs used to make the lethal injection is one concern
Texas prison officials face. A related one is the shrinking availability of
pentobarbital. That chemical, combined with pancuronium bromide and potassium
chloride, is an ingredient in the fatal cocktail used in executions in Texas
and other states.
The manufacturer of pentobarbital announced that it will try to block the use
of drugs in executions. The maker of thiopental — which had been one of the 3
ingredients used in making the lethal cocktail — stopped producing it in the
aftermath of international protests over its use in U.S. executions.
While capital punishment might be unpopular elsewhere, Texans strongly support
it. A recent poll conducted by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune
showed a solid 77 percent support for the death penalty in Texas. That number,
combined with the rising cost and availability of the chemicals used in
executions, poses a dilemma for cost-conscious lawmakers.
Prison officials are using those developments to try to keep information about
the availability and drugs under wraps — a move that can't be adequately
justified. Withholding information impedes a fully informed discussion on this
Though the cost of the drugs is steep on a percentage basis, the overall impact
on the state budget is minimal. Nonetheless, the shrinking availability of
pentobarbital will steer a discussion about alternatives that are cheaper or in
greater supply or both.
While public support for the death penalty is strong, Texans are also demanding
less government spending. Death penalty opponents have always had a tough way
to go in Texas and while the rising cost of executing inmates may give them
another argument, the poll numbers show they still have a steep hill to climb.
Mitigating the rising cost is the fact that more Texas jurors are opting for
life-without-parole sentences as an alternative to the death penalty. Since the
law was passed — over the strenuous objections of state prosecutors — Texas
executions have been steadily decreasing. A prison system report issued in
December showed that 13 Texas inmates were executed in 2011; 17 were executed
in 2010. In 2000, 40 Texas inmates were executed.
The decrease is attributed to a variety of reasons, including the overall cost
of prosecuting capital punishment cases.
No one should expect that the cost of the drugs alone will motivate Texas
legislators to even consider making the death penalty of thing of the past.
William "Rusty" Hubbarth, vice president of Justice for All, a staunch pro
death penalty group told Ward: "There are ongoing attacks to try to frustrate
the process, and since opponents could not overturn the death penalty in court,
they are bringing pressure on the drug manufacturers — and this pressure goes
beyond America. As for the rising cost, what price would you put on justice?"
The tone and tenor of Hubbarth's reply confirms that this ongoing discussion is
going to be as robust as ever and that's as it should be. An informed
discussion, however, demands that relevant information about the cost of drugs
and the supply be public.
Prison officials are avoiding questions about most aspects carrying out
executions, citing the fear of driving up costs and impeding their drug supply.
Prison authorities want Attorney General Greg Abbott to allow them to keep most
information about the execution drugs — where they come from and how much they
cost — secret.
An informed discussion is vital and not knowing about the drugs and their costs
works against that. Texans have a right to know how their money is being spent.
Abbott should open up those books, not close them.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)