Drug shortage puts state in strange position

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, March 26, 2014

All of the inmates on Alabama’s death row – even the 16 who have exhausted their appeals and are awaiting execution – have gotten a reprieve, at least temporarily.

Alabama, it seems, does not have access to pentobarbital, one of three drugs used in the state’s execution process.

Clay Crenshaw, who heads capital litigation for the state attorney general’s office, confirmed to the Associated Press this week that Alabama is out of the drug. Makers of the drugs used in executions have opted not to provide them to states because of the backlash and negative publicity the companies have receive form death penalty opponents.

Meanwhile, the Alabama Department of Corrections, in an effort to get new suppliers, is seeking legislation this session that would keep execution drug sources secret. The bill has passed the House of Representatives.

Supporters of the bill say it is necessary to protect drug suppliers from subsequent lawsuits. Opponents believe that details of state-sanctioned executions should not be kept secret, and have expressed concerns about the fact that the bill protects not just the names of the drugs manufacturers, but also makes confidential most details relating to the execution process. Several other states have adopted similar laws, many of which are currently facing legal challenges in state and federal court.

Alabama moved from execution by electric chair to lethal injection in 2002. Prior to that time, state law required that the execution chamber be at Holman Prison north of Atmore, and that its warden to serve as executioner.

Unless the senate also approves the bill protecting the identities of drugmakers, it will likely find itself out of the execution business, or forced to reinstate electrocutions.