California says it shouldn't have to return foreign-bought execution drug to FDA

Lethal Injection Chamber


California's lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is arguing that it doesn't have to give up its stock of the lethal injection drug sodium thiopental to the federal government. In a letter dated May 1, 2012, CDCR General Counsel Benjamin Rice told Domenic Veneziano, director of the FDA's Division of Import Operations and Policy, that "CDCR must decline to return the thiopental in its possession at this time."

The letter was in response to the FDA's order in April that states that imported the execution drug from abroad stop using them and return them to the FDA. 

The drug, sodium thiopental, is an anesthetic used by many states as an execution drug. In California, the drug is the first of three used — the condemned inmate is first put to sleep using thiopental, then given a paralyzing drug, followed by a third drug that stops his or her heart.


Brown backs off plan to shut down youth prisons

Gov. Jerry Brown

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaking on budget cuts during a news conference on May 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

Alongside the much-publicized cuts to in-home supportive services and potentially education in Governor Jerry Brown's revised budget this week targeting the state's $15.7 billion shortfall, one state agency was quietly spared: the Division of Juvenile Justice, formerly known as the California Youth Authority.

For the second time in two years, Brown had proposed eliminating the agency in his original budget this year, only to face massive outcry from the correctional officers' union, as well as district attorneys and law enforcement groups. Both times he floated the proposal, Brown pointed to the fact that the juvenile prison population has declined in California from a high of over 10,000 inmates in 1996 to 1,032 as of February 29, 2012. Furthermore, the agency remains under court oversight following a host of settlements springing from claims of systemic abuse and mistreatment of juvenile offenders. The consensus among correctional officials and juvenile justice reformers is that the DJJ has vastly improved conditions over the past few years, though allegations of harsh treatment persist.