The drugs to execute criminals could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, California prison agency records show

A view of the new lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison.

A view of the new lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Internal California prison agency records suggest the state might have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy execution drugs for lethal injection, according to documents released Tuesday by a civil liberties group.

Public records obtained by the ACLU of Northern California show that prison officials were busy in 2014 trying to find suppliers of execution drugs, which many manufacturers have refused to sell to authorities for the purpose of lethal injection.

At the time, court rulings had blocked executions, and the state planned to propose a new single-drug execution method. The last execution in California occurred in 2006.


A May 2014 email obtained in the public records by the ACLU said a compounding pharmacy agreed to provide pentobarbital, one of four proposed execution drugs, at an initial cost of $500,000 — and only if the company’s name was not released to the public.

Another email said the state had found a different source for buying pentobarbital. That email noted that 18 inmates had exhausted their appeals and about 324 grams of the drug would be required to execute them all.

The email said the cost would be $1,109 for 500 milligrams in addition to fees to cover “service costs” and pay for lawyers.

“This is likely a one-time window to acquire this drug because of pharmaceutical/anti-death penalty activity,” wrote Kelly L. McClease, whom the emails identified as an attorney in the legal division of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

There was no indication that the state purchased the drug, which would have cost about $718,632 for the 18 executions, in addition to the unspecified fees. The email said the drug had a shelf life of 24 months.

A Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman said she could not comment on the documents because of “ongoing litigation.” The protocol may be challenged in court if approved by the state.


California unveiled a new single-drug execution method in November. The ACLU sued the state to obtain internal records about how the new method was chosen. Public comment on the proposed lethal injection protocol, which was supposed to end in January, has been extended to July.

Ana Zamora, criminal justice policy director for the ACLU chapter, said the emails about the drug costs contradicted statements in the department’s proposed lethal injection regulatory package. It estimated the drugs would cost about $4,193 for each execution, based on what the state spent during past executions, she said.

She said the documents suggest that drugs for a single execution could cost between $133,080 and $150,000.

Michael Rushford, president and CEO of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said the corrections department could obtain the drugs at even less than $4,000 for each execution if it used prison compounding pharmacies to make them.

Twitter: @mauradolan



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