Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Company urged Florida not to use its drug in execution 'cocktail'

For years, Illinois-based Hospira Inc. worried about its drugs being used across the country for lethal injections. So, a company spokesman says, Hospira sent letters to all the states annually — including Florida — stating its opposition to the drugs' use to carry out death sentences.
But the states, including Florida, continued using at least one Hospira product in the three-drug "cocktail" approved for executions.

There was nothing illegal about that, but their continued use of Hospira products to execute inmates ultimately compelled the company last month to announce its decision to stop all production of its trademarked anesthetic, Pentothal. The supplies that states already have on hand are set to expire this year.

"Hospira provides these products because they improve or save lives and markets them solely for use as indicated on the product labeling," wrote Kees Gioenhout, Hospira's vice president of Clinical Research and Development, in a letter sent to Ohio in March. "As such, we do not support the use of any of our products in capital punishment procedures."

The Florida Department of Corrections has no record of any such letters sent to its headquarters in Tallahassee. "I have not been able to find the letter or anyone who remembers getting the letter," said corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. In an earlier e-mail, Plessinger wrote, "I can't find that letter. They didn't send it to the Secretary or legal or Institutions."
But Hospira spokesman Daniel Rosenberg said, "We sent letters to all the states. It was sent to Florida."

Hospira sent letters each year during the past decade, Rosenberg said, sharing concerns about the use of Hospira drugs in executions. Hospira was the sole manufacturer of sodium thiopental, or Pentothal, which was specifically listed in Florida's lethal-injection procedures spelled out by the Department of Corrections secretary in an April 2008 document.

In announcing its decision to cease making the drug, Hospira said it could not ensure that third-party suppliers would never sell the drug to state departments of corrections for use in executions. Authorities in Italy, where the drug was made, were also concerned about — and opposed to — the drug's use in executions in the United States.

When the Orlando Sentinel and its attorney requested Florida's Department of Corrections vendor history for the drug, the department denied the request, citing a state statute listing certain department records and information as confidential.

'Botched' executions
The Hospira situation is the latest example of the dilemmas death-penalty states sometimes face in finding humane ways to carry out their executions.
Florida's use of lethal injections came under scrutiny after the December 2006 execution of Angel Nieves Diaz. The convicted killer took 34 minutes to die and required two doses of the lethal drugs.

The state's use of lethal injection as its primary means of execution was adopted in 2000 as an alternative to the electric chair: "Old Sparky." Death-row inmates today may still opt for the electric chair, but the change to lethal injections as the primary method came after concerns about "botched" executions surfaced in using the electric chair. During 1990 and 1997, flames or smoke arose from inmates during electrocution.

Now that Hospira no longer manufactures Pentothal, Florida and many other states must seek alternative drugs. Many states used Pentothal as the anesthetic, followed by pancuronium bromide to relax muscles and potassium chloride to stop the heart. "We are in the process of establishing a new lethal-injection procedure," Plessinger said. "Currently no death warrants are pending; however, we will be ready to carry out a humane execution if a warrant is signed."
Soon after the Hospira decision, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced it would replace sodium thiopental with pentobarbital in its executions. The Ohio department noted in a Jan. 25 statement that pentobarbital is "widely available and manufactured in the United States."

Pentobarbital, more commonly used in euthanizing animals, has been used by Oklahoma officials in that state's lethal-injection process. It is also the drug being considered for use in Florida, Plessinger said last week.

On Thursday morning, Ohio used its remaining stores of Hospira's Pentothal to execute Frank Spisak, a triple murderer and longtime death-row inmate in that state. Ohio's old protocol called for that drug alone to be used in its executions.

In the future, Pentobarbital will be the sole drug used, said ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith.
When asked about the Hospira letter opposing the use of its drug in executions, Smith said she was aware of the letter. Asked how the state responded, Smith said, "I don't believe there was an official response by Ohio in regard to that letter."

Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said she was not aware of the Hospira letter being sent to her department. Texas still has a small amount of Pentothal on hand, but, like Florida, that large death-row state is still reviewing alternative drugs for future executions.

A number of state attorneys general have written to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking for the federal government's assistance in possibly obtaining overseas supplies of sodium thiopental, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

But Dieter expects most states will look at pentobarbital and other substitutes. In addition, he said a group of death-row inmates from three states has challenged the federal Food and Drug Administration for failing to review the quality of lethal-injection drugs coming from overseas.
As for the letters sent out by Hospira, Dieter said they signal that many in the health profession — drug manufacturers, doctors "or even the FDA" — want to distance themselves from the death penalty.

"It may not be the best public relations for a health company to be associated with a killing drug," he said. Though the Hospira letters probably had no binding effect, Dieter said "they do symbolize the growing sentiment that the U.S. is isolated in its use of the death penalty and that others are willing to take concrete steps, even to their economic disadvantage, to discourage such use."

By Anthony Colarossi, Orlando Sentinel10:45 PM EST, February 21, 2011
acolarossi@tribune.com or 407-420-5447
Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel

Monday, February 21, 2011

Time to Get Smart on Crime

Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Administration and Congress provides the
112th Congress and the Administration with analysis of the problems plaguing our state and
federal criminal justice systems and a series of recommendations to address these failures. It
provides a comprehensive examination of the criminal justice system, from the creation of
new criminal laws to ex-offenders’ reentry into communities after serving their sentences.
Our broad recommendations range from helping to restore and empower victims to
identifying ways to protect the rights of the accused.

Americans depend on the criminal justice system to maintain our safety and security.
We expect the system to effectively deter crime and punish offenders, and rehabilitate those
who have served their sentences. We also demand that it treat victims and their families with
compassion and provide justice and safety for all Americans. We insist that it be fair, reliable
and accurate. Yet, too frequently, these laudable—but daunting—goals go unmet.
Central to our mission is offering recommendations that achieve these goals, while
reflecting the economic realities and acknowledging the new priority of return on investment.
Today, budget shortfalls and economic distress are plaguing states and placing greater
burdens on the federal government. States are confronting budge crises that threaten all
facets of the criminal justice system, including courts, prisons, police departments,
prosecutors, and public defenders.

To effectively tackle these challenges, we must abandon heated rhetoric and explore
policies based not on ideology, but on evidence. We must come together to forge a system
that works for everyone. For this reason, Smart on Crime incorporates cost-effective,
evidence-based solutions to address the worst problems in our system.

The efforts of the Smart on Crime Coalition are coordinated by the Constitution Project.
The Constitution Project (TCP) brings together unlikely allies—experts and practitioners
from across the political spectrum—in order to promote and safeguard America’s founding
charter. TCP is working to reform the nation’s broken criminal justice system and to
strengthen the rule of law through scholarship, consensus policy reforms, advocacy, and
public education. The full report is here: http://www.besmartoncrime.org/pdf/Complete.pdf

Friday, February 18, 2011

Let's Put Criminal Justice Reform on the Florida Legislative Agenda!

As I travel around the state and meet FAMM supporters, I am asked again and again how you can help. Well, now’s your chance! The legislative session is right around the corner, and we need your help putting sentencing reform on the agenda!

Several important Florida state representatives and senators will help determine the direction of criminal justice reform this session. One of the most important is Senator Greg Evers (District 2), who is chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

To help convince Sen. Evers to help put sentencing reform on the agenda, I need each and every one of you to write a brief letter to Sen. Evers, explaining that you are a Florida resident, a FAMM supporter, and that you care about sentencing reform. After you’ve sent your letter, ask your friends, family members, and colleagues to do the same.

I posted a sample letter you can use as a guide on the Florida FAMM website.

If you want to use your own language, I suggest you cite some of the statistics available at the Florida FAMM page and mention the negative impact that our sentencing laws have on Florida’s budget problems. For better or worse, the budget has the attention of everyone in Tallahassee, and we should use that to our advantage. You should also feel free to share how mandatory sentencing laws have impacted you or your loved one.

Please remember that legislators are very busy, so shorter is often better; keep your letters to no more than one page. Also, and more importantly, keep your letter professional and polite!

You can contact Sen. Greg Evers by email at evers.greg.web@flsenate.gov. If you prefer to mail your letter, please address it to Senator Greg Evers, 24 North Tarragona, Pensacola, FL 32502. When you send your letter, please forward it on to me, both so I have a sense of how many have been sent and just as importantly, so I can thank you personally.

Let me add: it is vitally important that Sen. Evers receive as many letters as we can get to him. This is our first chance to let the legislature know who we are and what we want. Let’s let our voices be heard and heard loudly.

Finally, we have membership meetings coming up in Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Orlando. Please keep an eye on your email for details about those meetings. And follow us on Twitter at @FloridaFAMM!

As always, thank you for supporting FAMM. We couldn’t do it without you.



Greg Newburn
Florida Project Director

Contact Florida FAMM
P.O. Box 142933
Gainesville, FL 32614
(352) 682-2542

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Trying to end the death penalty in Florida

Ron McAndrew and I spoke out against capital punishment before a great audience in Naples last evening. Ron is a former warden from Florida State prison who presided over several executions. He gives powerful testimony against the death penalty. Read more about his journey here: http://www.ronmcandrew.com/p1003001.htm

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is Criminal Justice Reform Inevitable?

Nationally, we’ve had two major developments in recent weeks that give whiffs of shifting political winds when it comes to what our criminal justice system should look like. Once thought of as liberal policies, calls for funding rehabilitation programs, keeping low-level offenders out of prison, and shrinking the size and scope of the criminal justice system are starting to come from some unexpected places.

First, there’s “Right on Crime,” an initiative launched in late 2010 by the Texas Public Policy Foundation that’s building a case for criminal justice reform from traditional conservative principles like small government and a heavy focus on program outcomes.

Then, this week, another group emerged in the national spotlight called the “Smart on Crime Coaltion.” Smart on Crime unites some traditionally unallied entities: the ACLU, the CATO institute, Heritage Foundation, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers among them. Their report, a series of policy recommendations to Congress is about 317 pages long and covers almost any crime policy you can imagine. The basic message? That our national patchwork of courts, prisons, and policies has not produced a sufficiently fair and effective criminal justice system. Among the recommendations are reducing the use of mandatory minimum sentences, increasing funding for rehabilitation programs, and ending the use of long term solitary confinement.

At the roots of both of these odd movements is the economic crisis. In a recent series of coming out op-eds, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of all people, articulated his reasoning for joining with the “Right on Crime” campaign. Gingrich, a possible presidential candidate for 2012, seems to have completely left his calls in the 1990s for building more prisons and toughening criminal sentences behind:

“There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential. We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections – 300 percent more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.

Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high, but, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.”

Already, this message is catching on with conservative politicians. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has proposed cutting prison sentences and reducing parole supervision for lower level offenders. Florida Governor Rick Scott has proposed pouring money into rehabilitation programs aimed at keeping offenders from returning to prison–which would eventually save the state money.

Will the public go along with it? Polling seems to suggest that when couched under the auspices of cost-savings, efficiency, and government accountability, the public is pretty warm to the idea of softening the national focus on incarceration and punishment. Combine that with the face of the message–those same Republicans who pushed for tougher sentencing and more prisons and have an almost untouchable “tough on crime” credibility–and criminal justice reform starts to seem inevitable.

Is it? That may actually be up to liberals–who on a national level are not taking up the issue with comparable force. And it may be up to the economy: if the money comes back, the public may lose their ambition for the hard work of cuts and reforms.

By Rina Palta KALW News

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Now is the time for criminal justice reform:

The Sarasota Herald Tribune gets it right with this editorial:


Friday, February 04, 2011

To save money, Florida should kill death penalty:

Now that the hunt is on to wring out every superfluous dollar in the state budget, how about getting rid of the death penalty?
Yes, the death penalty in Florida just might be the ultimate entitlement program we can't afford.
"The number of inmates since 2000 on Death Row dying of natural causes has now surpassed the number of inmates executed," Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon said recently.
Surely, Cannon must be wrong. That sounds preposterous.
But Cannon's right.
In the past 10 years, the state executed 25 Death Row inmates, which was fewer than the 30 who died of natural causes, according to a review by FactCheck.org.
Of the 392 Florida prisoners serving death sentences, 145 of them have been there for 20 or more years and 34 have been there longer than 30 years. The oldest inmate is 80. And another one, Gary Alvord, a Michigan mental institution escapee who fled to Tampa and killed three women, has been on Death Row for 37 years.
A long, expensive process
The state restarted executing inmates in 1979 and has averaged about two executions per year, a pace that far from keeps up with the supply of new arrivals.
Part of that is due to gruesome application errors with the state's execution methods, both in electrocution and lethal injections, that resulted in temporary moratoriums. But mostly, it's because the legal process involved in putting someone to death is long. And expensive.
It's cheaper to lock up inmates for life than to put them on the Death Row carousel of legal appeals. The annual difference in cost is about $51 million, according to a 10-year-old Palm Beach Post study. Another study by The Miami Herald estimated that it costs about $3.2 million to execute a prisoner as compared with $750,000 to lock that prisoner up for life.
Risk of killing innocent inmates
In some cases, their legal journey seems to border on never-ending.
Duane Owen, a sociopath who murdered a 14-year-old babysitter in Delray Beach in 1984, has had two trials and at least six unsuccessful appeals to the Florida Supreme Court.
Now, I know what you're thinking. The solution is to get in touch with our inner Texas and just start picking up the pace.
But recent developments in the analysis of DNA evidence have pointed out the unreliability of eyewitness testimony and have proven that people convicted of horrible crimes are sometimes wrongly convicted by over-eager prosecutors. The Illinois House of Representatives voted last month to abolish the death penalty eight years after its governor emptied Death Row after finding that a dozen innocent prisoners had been condemned to die.
And in Florida, Herman Lindsey was freed by the state Supreme Court a little more than a year ago, becoming the 23rd Death Row prisoner in Florida who had been exonerated since the death penalty was revived in 1979.
"The average time these exonerated prisoners spent on Death Row was eight years," said Mark Elliot, the executive director of Floridians for an Alternative to the Death Penalty. "If you speed the process up, you're virtually guaranteeing that you'll be executing innocent people."
And here's a little icing on this macabre cake.
The only U.S. maker of the lethal injection drug, sodium thiopental, got out of the business recently, and our would-be European suppliers don't want to export death-penalty drugs to America because of an unwillingness to enable our executions.
So there's a shortage of death-penalty drugs.
Ohio's response is to switch to pentobarbital - the drug veterinarians use to put down dogs.
So this just might be a perfect time for Florida to reevaluate.
As long as our Death Row inmates are dying of old age, getting rid of the death penalty could serve as a kind of twofer: We can rescue a bit of our humanity along with our tax dollars.

By Frank Cerabino Palm Beach Post Staff Writer