Weighing the monetary and moral price of capital punishment

An Oklahoma prison performed death row inmate Clayton D. Lockett’s execution by lethal injection using previously untested drug cocktails. The result was a horrifically botched execution that calls prison practices to question on a national scale.

After Lockett experienced a collapsed vein during his execution last April, attorney Dean Sanderford stated his client’s body “started to twitch,” and “it looked like his whole upper body was trying to lift off the gurney.” Lockett eventually had a heart attack as a result of the lethal injections, leading to his death. Prisoners like Lockett do not deserve be guinea pigs of the state, undergoing dangerous experimentation and dying a painful death as a result. Nobody should be subjected to such treatment. If the death penalty cannot be implemented in a way that is humane, it should not be implemented at all. What Clayton Lockett experienced was not humane. It was torture. Convulsing and twitching on a table is not a swift and pain-free execution; it is anguish.

U.S. News & World Report reported that states such as Oklahoma have been denied drugs for capital punishment by pharmaceutical companies in America and abroad. As a result, states have resorted to acquiring drugs used in executions from compounding pharmacies, many of which have had “severe problems with contaminated drugs in recent years,” according to The New York Times. Many states, including Oklahoma, refuse to divulge where they get these drugs. Prisoners are not just at risk for contamination, but also risk a botched execution, like Lockett’s, as drugs become less available to states.

Lockett’s torturous death is not the only recent example of an execution gone awry due to untested drugs––many others have had horrific consequences. For instance, in the Ohio execution of Dennis McGuire in January, witnesses say that the process “was accompanied by movement and gasping, snorting and choking sounds.” Additionally, the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III in July 2013 took nearly two hours, during which Wood struggled and gasped for air hundreds of times after his initial sedation. The death penalty also carries a high financial burden.

A study by Judge Arthur Alarcon and Paula Mitchell from 2011 states that “since 1978, California’s current system has cost the state’s taxpayers $4 billion more than a system that has life in prison without the possibility of parole…as its most severe penalty.” According to the Kansas Death Penalty Cost Report, “the average death sentence case would be about 93 percent more expensive than the average non-death penalty case of similar severity.” Not only does the death penalty cost us money, but it also costs us morality and integrity.

I am not going to pretend that these men did not commit heinous crimes, but they do not deserve to die at the hands of a state government performing sloppy executions with mystery drug cocktails. It is not the government’s job to inflict pain. These executions have shown that states are willing to risk torturing their own citizens. Since the death penalty cannot be implemented in a way to make it consistently humane, it should not be implemented at all.