Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Good and Bad in Corrections

First the good. Every recession has a silver lining, and the current "Great Recession" may have done what gutless politicians feared to do: lower rates of imprisonment.

The number of people in U.S. prisons has grown at the slowest pace in nearly a decade, according to figures released Tuesday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The study also found that incarceration rates in 30 states declined last year.

Across the country, states are sending fewer people to prison as they grapple with a severe economic recession. Last year, the number of people sent to prison was down 0.5 percent from the previous year, while the number of people released from prison increased by 2 percent.

The steepest drop was in Georgia, where the prison population between 2007 and 2008 was down by 2,509 inmates, or 2.8 percent.
But don't worry, it's not like we're letting criminals out of prison. No sir. We're just sending less of 'em to lock up due to the fact that most states have been bankrupted by the latest downturn.

It's unfortunate it took dollars and cents (or the lack thereof) to bring sanity back to the criminal justice system, but we'll take it any way we can get it, I suppose.

Now the bad. "Don't Mess With Ohio" used the veterinary-tested, single drug method of lethal injection when it put down inmate Kenneth Biros last night.
Saying he was now “paroled to my Father in heaven,” a convicted killer in Ohio on Tuesday became the first person in the United States to be executed with a one-drug intravenous lethal injection.

The new method, which involved a large dose of anesthetic, akin to how animals are euthanized, has been hailed by most experts as painless and an improvement over the three-drug cocktail used in all other states that employ lethal injection, but it is unlikely to settle the debate over the death penalty.
Apparently, there was no twitching or writhing about with Biros once the drug started flowing, but it took the usual 30 minutes of digging around to find a vein, and once administered, Biros remained alive another 10 minutes or so before assuming room temperature.

The irony that lies in this untested method on humans having now been tested on a human, doesn't seem lost on the pro-death penalty types.
[Kurt Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation] also dismissed the criticism that the new approach was untested on humans. “What kind of test do they expect?” he said. “A controlled study with volunteers?”
Ho, ho, ho. Scheidegger is quite the card, isn't he? Remember him from my previous post when Ohio became the first state to botch a lethal injection?
"Poor baby! He suffered 18 pinpricks! I've had a few unsuccessful needle insertions in my day. It's a pain, but it's not torture."
Speaking of torture (and logic), checking in on his posts today, we find another gem from the circular reasoning file:
"The usual suspects make the expected noises, further confirming that all the professed 'concern' over methods of execution is really opposition to whatever method is adopted."

As we move on to this new chapter in the sordid saga of the death penalty in America, it will be interesting to watch how many states adopt the pet-tested method of euthanization and how many continue to hold true to the (less sordid) three-drug method, which received Supreme Court absolution mere months ago. With the recession still hammering many state and local budgets, how many will risk new rounds of litigation over a switch in method?

We'll watch and report.

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