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California's Got a New Death Chamber. Um, Yay?

There aren't any "death panels" in the health-care bill, but we do still have real "death chambers." California's just got a redesign.

No, Palin, there aren't any "death panels" in the health-care bill, but, if you're concerned, we do still have "death chambers" in the states, where masked executioners kill citizens under the auspices of the state.

California just updated its own in response to a judge's concern that the existing facilities and protocols risked constituting "cruel and unusual" punishment.

So what's the new place like? Well, it's spacious. The Los Angeles Times explains:

At 200 square feet, the lethal injection chamber built with inmate labor and $853,000 in taxpayer money is more than four times the size of the old metal-walled gas chamber used for two executions by lethal gas and 11 by lethal injection since capital punishment was restored in 1977.

Vials of the three drugs used to execute the condemned are stored in a caged and locked refrigerator in the death chamber's adjacent Infusion Control Room. Sodium thiopental would be pumped through first, to anesthetize the inmate, then pancurium bromide to paralyze him and, finally, potassium chloride to stop his heart. Two grommeted holes in the wall on either side of the gurney would be threaded with tubes to carry the lethal infusions from the masked execution team in the control room to the veins of the inmate. The inmate would be restrained by five black straps across the body and cuffs to steady his arms and ankles. Four tan wall phones with red warning lights stand ready to receive calls from the governor, the warden, the state attorney general and the U.S. Supreme Court, should a last-minute clemency be granted.


Grim stuff.

One of the big changes here is the separation of the press, the victim's family, and the inmate's family in the new design. The rationale for this decision is probably to eliminate awkward encounters in the viewing chamber between the people who presumably want the inmate to die and those who don't.

I get that an execution is a sensitive and potentially explosive time. But let's not lie to ourselves: Gathering to watch someone else's relative get killed is an inherently awkward thing. Isn't there an argument to be made for more transparency about what's happening and how everyone feels about it?

In general, our criminal justice system pretends there's nothing to be gained by bringing perpetrators and victims and families together, when it's sometimes what everyone really wants.

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