More on the Lockett execution and the uselessness of the three-drug protocol

Today’s New York Times has two reports:  a grim description of what happened before Clayton Lockett was executed on Tuesday, and an analysis of the common three-drug protocol for executing inmates in several states.

Since Lockett died of a heart attack after a botched attempt to execute him, it’s come out that he was actually tasered before being taken to the execution chamber, for he showed resistance. That’s the first time any condemned prisoner has ever been treated that way.  Second, the initial reports that a vein in Lockett’s arm collapsed were apparently untrue. Instead, a phlebotomist or a doctor (it’s not clear which one, but doctors aren’t supposed to be assisting in executions) tried to insert a line into Lockett’s femoral vein (in the groin), not a good thing to do:

But Oklahoma officials said that problems with the IV delivery, not the drugs themselves, accounted for Tuesday night’s problems.

Anesthesiologists said that while they sometimes use a femoral vein accessible from the groin when those in the arms and legs are not accessible, the procedure is more complicated and potentially painful.

Putting a line in the groin “is a highly invasive and complex procedure which requires extensive experience, training and credentialing,” said Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist at Columbia University. Oklahoma does not reveal the personnel involved in executions.

“There are a number of ways of checking whether a central line is properly placed in a vein, and had those been done they ought to have known ahead of time that the catheter was improperly positioned,” Dr. Heath said.

Dr. Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist at the Emory University School of Medicine, said that the prison’s initial account that the vein had collapsed or blown was almost certainly incorrect.

“The femoral vein is a big vessel,” Dr. Zivot said. Finding the vein, however, can be tricky. The vein is not visible from the surface, and is near a major artery and nerves. “You can’t feel it, you can’t see it,” he said.

Without special expertise, Dr. Zivot said, the failure was not surprising.

And this is an understatement:

David Dow, a death penalty appellate lawyer in Texas, said that prisoners sometimes resist leaving their cells, but that “it’s not something that happens regularly.” He expressed surprise that the medical staff administering the drugs did not have a second vein ready in case of problems with the first. “For a state that executes people,” he said, “they are awfully bad at it.”

This has been a mess. Not only was the execution botched, perhaps by incompetent technicians or doctors, but Oklahoma has been releasing incorrect information on what happened, and bit by bit. They should have waited for a full investigation, and made it absolutely public.  The secrecy is unwarranted. And the execution was certainly “cruel and unusual punishment”.

So is the use of three drugs. The other article answers a question that several people had, including myself: do we really need to use three drugs given that large animals can be peacefully euthanized with a single injection, and terminal patients in Switzerland with a single drink? (Doctors often give an overdose of morphine to terminal patients, knowing it will kill them.) The answer is no: a single drug—a barbituate—will suffice, and in fact has been used in several states. The three-drug cocktail is a mess: one supposedly puts you under, the second paralyzes your breathing muscles, and the third stops your heart. But if the first one doesn’t work well, you’ll be conscious while the second and third ones work: horribly painful when you’re aware.

Physicians have long known that large doses of single drugs — certain sedatives or anesthetics — can take a life painlessly, and with far less distress than the three-drug cocktail causes if the injection is botched.

Since 2010, more death-penalty states — Oklahoma not among them — have moved to use single drugs for lethal injection. Even critics of the death penalty say most of those executions have gone more smoothly than ones involving multiple drugs.

Barbiturates, including sodium thiopental and pentobarbital, infused into the bloodstream can quickly make a person go deeply unconscious, stop breathing and die. Dr. Mark J. Heath, an anesthesiologist at Columbia University and an expert on lethal injection, said that high doses of pentobarbital were routinely used to euthanize animals, from pet rabbits to beached whales.

Barbiturates alone have been used in 71 executions, in Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Washington, said Jennifer Moreno, a lawyer with the Death Penalty Clinic at Berkeley Law School.

Even though Dr. Heath opposes lethal injection, he said, “I have not seen a single complaint, not an unhappy warden or family or anybody, from the single-drug barbiturate approach.”

So why are we even using the three-drug protocol? Apparently because it was developed by a doctor in Oklahoma in 1977 (Dr. Jay Chapman, the state’s medical examiner), and it’s been used there and in other states simply out of inertia. In fact, Chapman later said that he’d recommend a single injection of barbituate instead.

The problem is not just that, though: it’s also the fact that the drugs are intravenously injected, with the needles put in by people who are largely inexperienced, and that the doses of the drugs may be too low.

The three-drug cocktail can be eliminated in favor of a more humane injection, and the drug doses can be fixed. But what can’t be fixed is the inexperience of people inserting the lines, and the absence of doctors supervising the process (it is rightly considered unethical for a physician to help kill someone.)  What also can’t be fixed is thee new report suggesting that more than 4% of people on death row are likely to be innocent, and once executed cannot be brought back. And what also cannot be fixed is the inhumanity of the state’s killing someone for doing the same thing. That’s retributive punishment.

Since yesterday I’ve pondered my alternative to capital punishment—life without parole—and in light of a few readers’ comments have rethought it a bit. I now think it should not automatically be the alternative to capital punishment. After all, we don’t know if, say, a 25-year sentence instead would be a better deterrent, or if some prisoners can actually be rehabilitated if treated in a different way.  Yes, some prisoners may have to spend the rest of their lives in jail, particularly if they’re psychopaths or incurably mentally ill in a dangerous way.  But in other countries life without parole is not a sentence used often, even for horrible capital crimes.

The object of punishment, if you’re a determinist, is threefold: deterrence, rehabilitation, and sequestration of offenders from society to prevent further harm. (Retribution isn’t a viable option since it accomplishes nothing but cater to our desire for reventge.)  None of these are met by capital punishment, and maybe not by automatic life-without-parole sentences, either. If you don’t think a murderer or rapist had a free “choice” about what he did, then you have to rethink how to deal with his transgression. The reason we don’t concentrate more on what forms of punishment are best for deterring others, rehabilitating offenders, and keeping them out of society until they do no more harm, is because those things are hard to do. They take empirical study—scientific analysis. But it’s what we must do if our justice system is to be both rational and humane. What you don’t do is keep on inflicting cruelty simply because that’s what’s always been done.

 

85 Comments

  1. mordacious1
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I don’t see how we ever get rid of this barbaric practice without amending the Constitution, which won’t happen as long as the christian right is involved in politics. Those guys sure love to kill people, especially black people.

  2. Scote
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a philosophical problem with killing killers as punishment. We imprison kidnappers and don’t find that to be a contradiction. But I do have a problem with the imperfections with our justice system. Not only may 4% of death row inmates be innocent, but the death penalty is disproportionately given to minorities over white people. I have to opposed the death penalty as unjust based on the way it is implemented.

    As for the method of execution, it does seem like we should be able to execute people more humanely than we do. Yet, I can’t help wondering if that could just make the executions all to easy for us? Could it make us too comfortable with the death penalty? On the other hand, the Saudis gruesomely execute people by beheading and that doesn’t seem to have put them off of execution as a method of punishment. So I don’t know what to think as to whether the method of execution affects our willingness to use it more widely.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Agree with this, and would add that I can’t come up with a good reason for the death penalty. It doesn’t deter, and it’s more expensive than life in prison. Perhaps of the greatest importance it’s also final.

      I’m never quite sure if acceptance of judicial murder in the US is a function of a thought process among the majority of the population that we are moving the problem to a higher plane. In Europe more people just see this as a terminal procedure and are thus, perhaps, less accepting of it.

      Rachel Maddow did a really good program on death penalty methods and administration a couple of days ago.

      • Daoud
        Posted May 2, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        Just a question: why is the death penalty more expensive than life in prison? Because of the inevitable legal costs in inevitable appeals etc?

        • gluonspring
          Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          If it is true, that must be why. This is why I think that’s a bad argument to make in opposition to the death penalty. Death penalty proponents can counter that we should just make all of those costs cheaper, eliminate appeals, etc.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

            It’s a question of quality control. Obviously it can be made cheaper — cops could just shoot perps on the spot instead of arresting them — but then your error rate goes way up. So if you want to pretend that you’re being civilized and dispassionate about it, then you have to hold death-penalty cases to a higher standard of quality control than non-capital cases where mistakes can be corrected. And that costs money.

            Bottom line is that you can’t have it both ways: you can’t claim that the death penalty can be done cheaply and carefully at the same time.

            • gluonspring
              Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

              Agreed, you can’t have it both ways. The argument is sound, I just imagine it having no good effect on death penalty proponents who I expect will also see the idea of extra quality control for “murderers” as a bad thing. I wouldn’t make this argument to my parents, for example, because they already feel that “criminals” get too much benefit of the doubt in courts. They’d honestly see the “solution” to be to streamline the courts and just take your lumps on errors. God will sort it all out in the end anyway, so we don’t have to sweat it too much.

              Ugh. Now I’m depressed.

              • Posted May 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                Gregory Kusnick:

                “It’s a question of quality control.”

                ARE YOU SERIOUS? I’m getting ashamed of belonging to the human species.

          • Mark Reaume
            Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

            This site lists several studies in various states detailing the costs of the death penalty. I didn’t spend a lot of time on it but it does appear to be related to legal costs.

            http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/costs-death-penalty

        • Simon Hayward
          Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          Apparently so, here is a link to an article in forbes on the subject, but there are lots of sources:
          http://tinyurl.com/3f8bzv5

        • Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          I think I can provide some details. Yes, the necessary appeals process adds considerably to the expense. Each appeal involves the work of a large # of people to review the case, and this is repeated each time over what can be decades.
          Also death row inmates are kept in more isolated, specialized facilities that must be fully staffed by guards, custodians, etc. It is cheaper to keep prisoners in max security prisons because they ‘save in bulk’ if you will.
          According to a web site, California pays about $90,000 more per prisoner per year to keep them on death row, as opposed to in a maximum security facility. Even though those kept for life are kept a lot longer, I guess it works out to be cheaper per prisoner to be jailed for life.

          • Daoud
            Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

            Though, death penalty aside, I think Americans should also be much more critical of their justice system which has given the US one of the largest prison populations in the world.

            • Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

              I think Americans should also be much more critical of their justice system which has given the US one of the largest prison populations in the world

              Too damn’ right. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prison_populations_by_country. Whether that also means we have the most prisoners of any nation, I’m unsure, but it looks like that could probably be the case too.

              • Daoud
                Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

                from this BBC article, yes, the US has the highest prison population as well as highest rate:
                http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm
                Beating out China and Russia for the gold! er…

              • Posted May 2, 2014 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

                Georgia is among the states that recently passed a law penalizing drivers for going too slow in the left lane.

                On the face of it, it is a good thing as America has a problem with people yielding right of way to faster vehicles and that creates a higher potential for accidents. However, they attached a fine and potentially ONE YEAR in jail for a violation. Come again? Someone is driving too slow in the subjective opinion of a police officer and as a result can be incarcerated, resulting in job loss and quite likely permanent damage to their economic and social status not only for themselves but potentially their families. Only in America!

            • gluonspring
              Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

              What do you mean? I was told we’re the BEST at everything! The best justice system, the best health care system, the best economic system, the best religion, hell, even the best wars in the whole world! So if we have the largest prison population in that world that must make it a good thing. ;-)

              I think maybe we’re not the best at self reflection, though.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted May 3, 2014 at 4:21 am | Permalink

                I think maybe we’re not the best at self reflection, though.

                The mirror keeps on breaking?

            • Larry Gay
              Posted May 3, 2014 at 2:08 am | Permalink

              Someone pointed out recently that we really should speak of our “judicial system”, not “justice system”, since justice is only an ideal and often not achieved.

    • Marta
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      “As for the method of execution, it does seem like we should be able to execute people more humanely than we do. Yet, I can’t help wondering if that could just make the executions all to easy for us?”

      This kind of rationale is bothersome. There are any number of situations that we don’t bother to improve because their apparent inhumanity, gruesomeness or immorality may have “deterrent” value.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted May 3, 2014 at 4:22 am | Permalink

        There are any number of situations that we don’t bother to improve because their apparent inhumanity, gruesomeness or immorality may have “deterrent” value.

        Your first handful of examples, after being incompetent at executing people?

    • Chris Way
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      There is a broader health care issue for lethal injection. The drugs that would make for a humane death are routinely used at far lower doses for common medical procedures.

      For the Americans, nearly 90% of their Propofol is supplied by European manufacturers. These companies are refusing to sell medications to the US if the drug is used in an execution.

      The Economist has a number of excellent articles on the topic. A good “survey” article would be http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21601270-america-falling-out-love-needle-slow-death-death-penalty

    • Posted May 3, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      “I don’t have a philosophical problem with killing killers as punishment. ”

      Well. that is the problem. If you don’t understand this, look for some education.

  3. Barry Lyons
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Yes: sequestration of offenders (if rehabilitation seems an impossible task).

    The bloodlust is this country is despicable.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 2:35 am | Permalink

      As a scientist I abhor destruction of evidence. If you kill a prisoner, you may also destroy potential evidence about accomplices or information about other crimes. So sequestration is preferable for yet another reason.

  4. Posted May 2, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    The reason we don’t concentrate more on what forms of punishment are best for deterring others, rehabilitating offenders, and keeping them out of society until they do no more harm, is because those things are hard to do. They take empirical study—scientific analysis. But it’s what we must do if our justice system is to be both rational and humane. What you don’t do is keep on inflicting cruelty simply because that’s what’s always been done.

    Hurrah! Well said!

    Yes, some prisoners may have to spend the rest of their lives in jail, particularly if they’re psychopaths or incurably mentally ill in a dangerous way.

    If they’re mentally ill, it’s surely unlikely that prison is the best place for them to be. Other countries have secure psychiatric facilities for dangerous offenders, some of whom may indeed never be adjudged by the shrinks to be fit for release but others of whom can in fact become capable once more of functioning in open society. I gather the recidivism rates are tiny; difficult to judge, of course, because, every time a released patient does reoffend, there’s an almighty hoo-hah in the gutter press.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      If they are mentally ill they should be in a facility for the mentally ill like a facility for the criminally insane. There was a crime in Canada a few years ago where a guy was delusional & decapitated an innocent guy on a bus with him. The delusional guy was clearly insane & was put into psychiatric care but there was a lot of outcry – people didn’t want to accept that he would not “pay” for his crime. He was insane. The crime was a horrible tragedy but putting an insane person in prison wasn’t going to make it all better.

      • Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        If they are mentally ill they should be in a facility for the mentally ill like a facility for the criminally insane.

        Exactly. It’s of utmost cruelty — and I’d have thought in practical terms very stupid — just to chuck them into prison.

        • Posted May 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          Well, what is the alternative, murder the psychiatric case in turn?

          • Posted May 3, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

            Well, what is the alternative, murder the psychiatric case in turn?

            Sorry: I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say here.

          • Posted May 5, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

            As already stated, the alternative is to treat them as a patient (albeit perhaps an involuntary one), not a prisoner.

  5. Posted May 2, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    >>The object of punishment, if you’re a determinist, is threefold: deterrence, rehabilitation, and sequestration of offenders from society to prevent further harm. (Retribution isn’t a viable option since it accomplishes nothing but cater to our desire for reventge.)

    This should also be true for non-determinists. After all what good is served by retribution, even if we (for the sake of argument) assume that an offender has free will?

    • gluonspring
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      I agree. I don’t see how not being a determinist would make the other reasons people support executions, to satisfy a thirst for vengeance or to appease some half-formed idea of reciprocity (which people commonly call ‘justice’), seem any better. If the person committed the crime with “free will” it wouldn’t make executing them any more useful and it wouldn’t do anything to reduce the moral contamination we experience by commending and participating in the killing of humans rendered helpless.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Probably because if you assume free will then the offender chooses to do a bad thing and therefore is responsible wholly and completely for their actions. This assumes that they could have done otherwise but didn’t and wanted to do what they did and so did so.

      • Posted May 2, 2014 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

        If one would be fully responsible for his or her actions, retribution does not make sense. Hurting one for doing bad, does not reverse his action; it only satisfies the urge for revenge of the victims or their kin.

  6. Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Contrasting imprisonment of a kidnapper with execution for the crime of homicide is a false equivalence. It only restates eye for eye retribution which, while an improvement ~ three millenia past over genocidal vengeance, remains vengeance solely for the sake of gratifying blood lust. Civilization of species Homo sapiens will never be achieved unless this primitive impulse is abandoned.

    ‘If you don’t think a murderer or rapist had a free “choice” about what he did, then you have to rethink how to deal with his transgression.’ True. True also if one thinks choice options exist.

    IOW, true simply because of the nature of truth as applied to crime and punishment. If truth is a matter of a direct relationship with reality, and it is, the USA clearly has
    truth/reality flaws aplenty with sentencing standards.

    And then there is the recent problem with investigation of white collar crimes by financial elites, and arrests/prosecutions of scoundrels brazenly flouting law and the general well-being of all but themselves — there are no such arrests. And thus incentive for white collar criminals to push boundaries ever further. Oops. I hear a tangent alarm begin to wail.

  7. Daoud
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I have mixed feelings about the death penalty. I do believe some crimes are deserving of the death penalty (and this case in Oklahoma would be a contender). BUT I don’t believe the State should be killing people. Throw in the chance of wrongful conviction (and racism in sentencing in the US, though as far as I know this is a particularly American issue, not sure if it is in other nations with the death penalty), I come down ultimately against the death penalty. I would vote against it if it was on a ballot.

    A good example is Guy Paul Morin in Canada, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Paul_Morin, in my view, the crime he was convicted of is deserving of the death penalty (rape and murder of an 8yr old girl), but he was wrongly convicted and spent a decade of life imprisonment before being exonerated by newer DNA techniques. So to have executed him, would have a) murdered an innocent man, and b) close the case on a horrible crime where the real murderer would get off scott free (perhaps to murder again).

    But, I am Canadian and we do not have the death penalty and it is extremely unlikely to ever come back.

    But then again, if Norway had a drastic change and decided to execute Anders Breivik, I would shrug my shoulders, my outrage and/or political/social activism would have a lot of other more pressing concerns.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Here’s the thing, though: does “deserving of the death penalty” actually mean anything other than a statement of one’s own visceral revulsion? I don’t think it does.

      So I think it’s best to rule out questions of desert as irrelevant and unresolvable, and focus instead on the practical utility of capital punishment. Which in my opinion is nil.

      • Daoud
        Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        Which is partly why I am against the death penalty (other reasons I mentioned above, the morality of the State killing people, the inevitability of innocent people being executed, the unequal sentencing–e.g. racist bias in the US).

        But in contrast to that, do I think it’s wrong if someone like Anders Breivik pays with his life for his crimes? Not really.

      • Daoud
        Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        To further clarify my position, if Canada held a referendum on whether to bring back the death penalty, I would vote no.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 4:28 am | Permalink

      But then again, if Norway had a drastic change and decided to execute Anders Breivik, I would shrug my shoulders,

      I’d substitute “inconceivable” for “drastic” there. I simply cannot conceive of the Noggins I know and work with permitting their country to slide so far back into barbarism.

  8. gluonspring
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    One problem I have with the death penalty is that it is yet another form of othering. If you saw a group of men drag a helpless person out of a room, strap them to a table, and kill them, you’d be horrified and outraged. People manage not to feel this way when it is done to someone convicted of murder because we see them as an “other”, and this shuts down our empathy. The idea that moral progress has come by expanding the sphere of one’s tribe, extending empathy to more and more of humanity, and shrinking the sphere of the other who don’t receive empathy, rings true to me. I think we are not done yet.

    Of course, when you think of the murderer’s victim you feel outrage as well. You’d be a broken human if you didn’t. This outrage is useful if you were there when the murder was happening as it would motivate you to intervene, and it’s useful after the fact to motivate people to find and prevent the murderer from killing others. But once the attacker has been rendered helpless this very strong emotion is no longer helpful to society. Once caught, the situation changes. Now you have a helpless person in your hands, and the question becomes, it seems to me, “How do we think helpless people should be treated?”

    • Kevin
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Very true. Us and them. Many people clearly do not understand what they are doing when they allow themselves to think that murder is justified. They are demarcating what was once a human and no longer a human, therefore permissible to kill. This is something that soldiers do in time of war, if they are to get past the horror of ending lives.

      Is an executioner always a (temporary) brutal sociopath?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      It is also impractical. If we agree that the state should protect us from bad people, it does not follow that they should carry out vengeance on our behalf. If carrying out vengeance on our behalf is okay, it makes sense that it would be okay for individuals to do the same. In other words, why bother giving the state the authority to exact revenge on our behalf when we can just do it ourselves? Removing vengeance from the individual ensures you don’t have the escalating circle of vengeance (a weakness of the tit-for-tat game in Game Theory) common in less just societies.

  9. Jeffery
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Saudi Arabia is an excellent example of the failure of the death penalty to deter people from murder; you’d think, after all of those beheadings, that there wouldn’t be anyone in the country willing to kill someone (or any thieves, either, for that matter, with amputation being used).
    However, I don’t see the death penalty as being wholly retributive: it is the ONLY guaranteed way of completely protecting society from a murderer who can’t (with today’s psychiatric techniques) be positively guaranteed to not offend again. People can still kill people in prison, unless they’re kept in permanent solitary confinement, and that, in my opinion, has been long proven to be “cruel and unusual” punishment.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      In which case you have to accept that a proportion of the people you execute are innocent. Many of us do not find that acceptable.

      I would not accept that solitaire confinement is the only available alternative. Much of the rest of the world manages quite happily without using either option.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        You also have to accept that the state has the authority to execute its citizens.

  10. Ken Phelps
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Geez, when China’s method of execution starts to look good, maaaaaaybe there’s a problem.

    • Scote
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, the close quarters bullet to the back of the head. Brutal, efficient and ironically more humane than our complicated 3 drug “medical” method. But no likely botched executions. Too bad about all the political prisoners and others, some of whom are now featured in one of those traveling posed dissected plasticized body shows.

  11. gluonspring
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    “The reason we don’t concentrate more on what forms of punishment are best for deterring others, rehabilitating offenders, and keeping them out of society until they do no more harm, is because those things are hard to do.”

    Sadly, I don’t think this is true. I think we don’t concentrate on these things not because they are hard but because most people don’t actually believe that this is the purpose of punishment. Justice for most people is a matter of almost pure reciprocity, about balancing some some abstract karmic-like accounting of harms, fueled by the emotion of vengefulness. If it is a deterrent, all the better, but that is only a secondary goal, and rehabilitating them isn’t even on the horizon.

    My impression is that people are generally fairly proud of being ruled by their emotions, confusing as they seem to so often do their own emotions for “principles”, and vengefulness is a strong emotion. I hope I am wrong, that I am being overly cynical. I would love to think that the only thing that separates us from a rational justice system is the mere difficulty of the work involved.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      I agree….I think the need (instinct?) for vengeance is such a strong one that it feels wrong not to satiate it. It is only through thinking about what type of State you want to live in, what works as deterrents, etc. that you can arrive at an alternate conclusion. I’m the first to admit that I’d prefer to avenge someone who hurt someone I cared about or by proxy someone I felt empathy for. I just know there is a reason that revenge is taken out of my hands when I participate in an enlightened society.

      • Daoud
        Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        I agree, it is weighing the many negatives of the death penalty without denying the genuine emotional closure it could bring to many people when faced with the most heinous crimes like those of Anders Breivik or Paul Bernardo etc. The latter is not justification enough though.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted May 3, 2014 at 4:33 am | Permalink

          I agree, it is weighing the many negatives of the death penalty without denying the genuine emotional closure it could bring to many people when faced with the most heinous crimes like those of Anders Breivik or Paul Bernardo etc.

          And what about the re-opening of old, allegedly emotionally “closed”, wounds when, as experience shows is inevitable, the state executes an innocent person leaving the guilty person unpunished?

      • gluonspring
        Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        I suspect reciprocity, including vengeance, is a built-in human emotion. Without reciprocity social behavior is kind of unstable since it can be sapped by cheaters, so this sentiment is probably important in our development as social animals.

        It’s not surprising to me, in any case, that we feel strongly this way. It’s actually a little surprising that we can over come it and I wish I understood better how that comes about. I know that when I was younger I enjoyed movies with a vengeance theme more unreservedly. I still enjoy seeing the bad guy get what is coming to him but I feel a queasiness about it now as it more easily reminds me of the dehumanization and sadism that characterize so many bad things in the world.

      • john cronk
        Posted May 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        The social contract was set up to prevent endless cycles of vendettas which formerly were the way transgressions and crimes were dealt with, entailing lots of cruelty, fear, and suffering of innocents and all the inefficiencies that inflicts on society.
        The contract took those crude attempts at balancing of books out of the hands of vested interests and placed it in a dispassionate system so that everyone could have confidence that justice would be served fairly.
        BUT this more ‘enlightened’ way of operating is not synonymous with the idea of rehabilitation of the criminal, that of the death penalty being wrong, or with the purpose of that penalty being to provide for the closure of victims and their survivors either. In fact, it’s none of the victim’s survivors’ business, under the logic of the social contract, what punishment is meted out to a criminal – only the business of the justice system operating for the benefit of society as a whole. Punishments are deterrents and do contribute to society’s sense that their rights are respected. Being charged for the upkeep of bad people sends the opposite message.
        The fact that the system is not doing its job properly is a big problem – one that won’t be solved while the public confuses itself with timidiy and doubt about its own ability to made decisions about even the simplest issues.

    • Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      Sadly, I don’t think this is true.</i

      Myself, I was including bringing about the attitudinal change you describe as one of the things that make reforming the system difficult to do.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    That was a grisly account.*

    I was confounded by reading that US constitution has an “Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment”. If state murder isn’t a cruel (no appeal) and unusual (today practiced in a handful of nations among over a hundred, and a very low frequency of global sentences for capital crimes) punishment, what is!?

    [Clearly the US constitution is in need of an overhaul, or at least the institutions that are put to its use is.]

    large animals can be peacefully euthanized with a single injection, and terminal patients in Switzerland with a single drink

    So all they need is a stomach tube, which can be monitored by an x-ray or similar instruments, and enforced by local anesthetics. One orifice, many ways to monitor – prison proof.

    *Notably “gris” = “svin” = swine in swedish, which may have nothing to do with the indo-european roots of “ghrēi” (grey?) [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/grisly], but contaminates my perception of the term.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 4:42 am | Permalink
      large animals can be peacefully euthanized with a single injection, and terminal patients in Switzerland with a single drink

      So all they need is a stomach tube,

      Reading some of the accounts of Suffragettes on the oral rape by the force-feeding tube (and sometimes anal rape) would be a good idea before you try getting this put onto the political discussion platform.
      It’s good to have an idea of the vilification that you’ll be subjected to before raising a proposition.

  13. Dianne Leonard
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    I support restorative justice, something that is now getting a foothold in some schools when dealing with young offenders. I do believe it could work rather than the death penalty or life without parole. It gives the offender an opportunity to make amends to the person s/he has hurt and to turn his/her life around, rather than getting even and killing back. I think this is something that should at least be *tried*. The prisons budget here in California is higher than that for education from pre-K to college. Why are we spending all this money locking people up? Last I read 1/5 of the prison population in Calif are there for low-level drug “crimes.”

  14. Alfonso
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    s it known on the news and mass media of the USA that a European court has ordered release dozens of dangerous murderers? Could the same thing happen in the U.S.? You aware that?

  15. Alfonso
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    I sent a few automatic translations made ​​with the Google translator of Spanish newspapers telling as the European Court of Human Rights has forced Spain to free dozens of serial killers, pedophiles, murderers, rapists and terrorists. The commotion in the victims and civil society has been enormous. The freed by activist judges have a very high recidivism rate. I think that Americans are not aware of the bigotry and contempt for the rights of victims showing European judges. This should be a cause for reflection for lawyers of the victims, today foulbrood happens in Spain tomorrow could happen in USA.

  16. Posted May 3, 2014 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    Isn’t an eye for an eye a Jewish commandment? Surely they should be turning the other cheek as commanded by their Jesus?
    Otherwise, we might as well go back to lynching! poe.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 4:44 am | Permalink

      Hammurabi, IIRC. A millennium or so before anything recognisable as Judaism.

  17. Alfonso
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    European abolition death penalty and his consequences : ETA terrorists poised to walk free after European court strikes down “Parot doctrine”
    ECHR calls method of calculating sentences to keep criminals in jail “illegal detention”
    http://elpais.com/elpais/2013/10/21/inenglish/1382356317_763117.html?rel=rosEP

    • Posted May 3, 2014 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      You continue to post comments that interest you but are irrelevant to the thread. Until you stick with the topic, your comments will be moderated. I’ve deleted two comments that are about Spanish prisoners.

  18. Posted May 3, 2014 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    The ECHR ruling seems to be that you can’t arbitrarily increase (in effect) someone’s sentence after sentence has already been determined. That seems a reasonable stance.

    • Barney
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      It’s not exactly ‘arbitrarily increasing’. What the Spanish courts were doing is saying that with multiple convictions, reductions in sentence (which were earned by participating in workshops and courses) could be applied to the total of all the sentences, rather than the “no sentence longer than 30 years” limit. So this meant a multiple murderer would never serve more than 19 years (that’s the length for Del Rio, anyway), even if they’re not rehabilitated in any form. The courts would have made that 30 years.

      I think that does raise problems about sequestration of dangerous people from society.

      • Posted May 3, 2014 at 6:10 am | Permalink

        It’s not exactly ‘arbitrarily increasing’.

        That’s why I added “in effect” in parentheses. They changed the rules, post-sentencing, such as to increase the amount of time spent by the criminal in prison. The ECHR was quite right to declare that unacceptable. (Imagine the Spaniards had reintroduced the death penalty and started backdating it, as it were.)

        At the same time, obviously, the situation is (or could be) problematic. It’s obvious the framers of the original law didn’t think things through properly. In the case of the ETA terrorists (who presumably anyway regarded themselves as prisoners of a war that’s now over), I’d guess there’s only limited worry; but the mad sadistic rapist guy I read about in one of the articles is clearly a cause for grave concern . . . although one can’t help wondering why he was in prison at all, rather than in a secure psychiatric hospital.

  19. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    But if the first one doesn’t work well, you’ll be conscious while the second and third ones work: horribly painful when you’re aware.

    And I would suspect that most ^H^H^H^H^H many proponents of the death penalty would see that as an advantage, not a disadvantage.

    • Posted May 3, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      Proponents might well consider awareness of pain and the terror accompanying it as a feature, and not a bug, as it were.

  20. Posted May 3, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    And now the odious Fallin’s coverup has begun: she’s announced an “independent” investigation of the Chris Christie kind:

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/takingnote/2014/05/01/the-investigation-of-the-horrific-oklahoma-execution-will-not-be-independent/

    One that will not, for example, so much as peek at her own actions in the affair.

  21. john cronk
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I am amazed and depressed about how foolish people can be when discussing this subject. They come up with the most ridiculous assertions. I think the following:
    There is nothing inherently wrong with executing bad people.
    Legal execution is not the same thing as murder.
    Killing condemned criminals is not inherently ‘brutal’
    The death penalty is a sensible punishment, and its supporters, at least this one, need not be labeled as angry, stupid, retributive or sadistic. I support the death penalty because people sometimes behave in ways for which they can be judged to have forfeited their right to live in human society. And because there is no justification for charging society with the responsibility to feed and house these criminals. And because the death penalty is not retribution, but rather promotes a sense of justice served to society. And because it’s a deterrent – silly denials to the contrary notwithstanding. And, despite the same silly denials, because properly applied it’s far less expensive to society than incarceration.
    (The uselessness of incarcerated people is another topic we could discuss)
    I’d like to add that to think that execution is ‘retribution’ is an insult to victims and their survivors, to whom the death of someone who deprived them of their loved one would be cold comfort indeed.

    I suggest that those who oppose the death penalty have sacrificed clear thinking for what they feel is mental sophistication. But they’re not being intelligent, just confused and wrong.

    • Posted May 3, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      “There is nothing inherently wrong with executing bad people.”

      Well, you sound like a Nazi. Again, if you wonder why, get an education.

      • john cronk
        Posted May 3, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        I’ll simply let your comment stand. I don’t think it will influence anyone whose opinion I place any value on.

  22. Posted May 3, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    And because it’s a deterrent – silly denials to the contrary notwithstanding.

    Those “silly denials” appear to be the overwhelming bulk of the research done on the subject.

    • john cronk
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      I would check who’s doing the research, what it’s based on, and think about whether it actually makes sense.

      Most of the research on many topics, a healthy diet for example, is simply self serving and wrong in its conclusions.

      • Posted May 3, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        I would check who’s doing the research, what it’s based on, and think about whether it actually makes sense. Most of the research on many topics, a healthy diet for example, is simply self serving and wrong in its conclusions.

        So what you’re saying is that, if the research disagrees with your ideology, then it’s the research that’s wrong?

        Watch a lot of Fox News, do we?

  23. john cronk
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    If the death penalty’s deterrent effect is subject to doubt it’s due to the fact that it ranks with smoking and eating junk food in length of time under its influence until one finally expires.

  24. qbsmd
    Posted May 6, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    “The other article answers a question that several people had, including myself: do we really need to use three drugs given that large animals can be peacefully euthanized with a single injection, and terminal patients in Switzerland with a single drink? (Doctors often give an overdose of morphine to terminal patients, knowing it will kill them.) The answer is no: a single drug—a barbituate—will suffice, and in fact has been used in several states.”

    I’ve been thinking about that. I suspect that the three drug system is used because it’s more complicated and likely to be botched than other methods. People who want to abolish the death penalty and want to portray it as inhumane get what they want sometimes, and people who support the death penalty and wish it were less painless get what they want sometimes. Given that the American political system promotes politicians who pander to their “base” at one of the political extremes at the expense of moderates, this is far from the only issue where both sides make rational decisions impossible.

  25. PM
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Even though having a liberal bias, I tend to have mixed feelings about death sentences.

    In the case discussed above, I don’t understand why suffering caused to the convict should be an issue. He had clearly inflicted pain on others. At least, the death penalty and the agony before, could provide some “closure” to the family of victims.

    Again, keeping these criminals in jail means more burden on tax payers – not a fiscally viable solution.

    However, I have almost opposite feelings for criminals like Ajmal Kasab – the only terrorist that survived the November 2008 Bombay attacks. Given his age, for him, death was just an easy end. He would have suffered more and would have realised the grimness of his actions, would he have been kept alive.

    Similar is the case of schizophrenic patients – there are two recent cases in Canada where the killers were not held criminally responsible for their actions. Seems like both of them will eventually rehabilitated in society. However, most Canadians would be uneasy with a mentally ill person living amongst them. Personally, I feel that death sentence is appropriate in such cases where extended treatment or rehabilitation of such patients is a liability on tax payers.

    • Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Even though having a liberal bias

      Sorry, but you then go on to demonstrate exactly the opposite.

      Liberals don’t argue that it’s okay to kill people if it saves taxpayer dollars, that it’s okay to torture people to death if it makes some other people happy, and that killing the mentally ill is an okay way to avoid unease.

      • PM
        Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t say I am a liberal. I am middle in the road – social liberal, fiscal conservative. And I don’t think I have to follow every liberal commandment.

        • Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

          social liberal

          But you’re obviously not a social liberal — that’s the point I was making.

          And I don’t think I have to follow every liberal commandment.

          Yet further evidence that you’re not: liberals tend not to “do” commandments. That’s more a conservative trait.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/more-on-the-lockett-execution-and-the-uselessness&#8230; […]

  2. […] My piece on Oklahoma’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett has been heavily rewritten, combined with some other stuff, and published by The New Republic as “The three-drug death penalty cocktail is a mess.” (It takes about 2.5 hours to rewrite a website post for a column.) […]

  3. furthers

    More on the Lockett execution and the uselessness of the three-drug protocol « Why Evolution Is True

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