Thursday, April 5, 2012

Prison officials fight disclosure of drug stockpiles

Somewhere along the line, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice seems to have forgotten that the government is supposed to serve the people - not the other way around.

Back in December an American reporter with a British newspaper, Ed Pilkington, filed a public information request with TCDJ inquiring about the stocks of lethal drugs in the state's medicine cabinet. Instead of providing the information as requested, Patricia Fleming, TCDJ's general counsel, claimed that releasing the information could endanger the vendors of the lethal drugs the State of Texas goes to for its fix.

Ms. Fleming claimed that the British anti-death penalty group Reprieve might mount a campaign of terror against any company that manufactured or supplied the drugs to the state. She likened anti-death penalty activists to prison gangs.
Likening Reprieve's campaigns to those of violent prison gangs, the brief written by TDCJ Assistant General Counsel Patricia Fleming asserts that releasing information "creates a substantial risk of physical harm to our supplier. ... It is not a question of if, but when, Reprieve's unrestrained harassment will escalate into violence..."
What Ms. Fleming refers to as "unrestrained harassment," others would call questioning authority. Why should the state be so defensive about its use of the death penalty? Gov. Rick Perry tried to pave the road to the White House with the bodies of inmates whose executions he's presided over. Is it because those who run the state's death machine see the writing on the wall?

Ms. Fleming doesn't seem to understand that the people of Texas are her boss. Whether she wants the information released or not is of little consequence. It is our tax money that is used to purchase the lethal drugs the state pumps into the arms of inmates in order to murder them.

Joseph Larsen, a lawyer for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said Pilkington's questions go to the "heart of how effectively TDCJ performs its official functions." 
"The whole idea behind the Texas Public Information Act is that the governmental bodies do not get to control the information that underlies political discussion," he said. "Specifically, the governmental body does not even get to ask why a requestor wants certain information. How then can a governmental body base its argument for withholding on what use it anticipates will be made of the information if released?"

The TCDJ is using this phantom threat to cover up one of two possibilities - either the state is running dangerously low on lethal drugs and is scrambling to find another drug that can pass constitutional muster or the state has a healthy supply of the drugs that have been purchased from a vendor who is deliberately violating the drug manufacturer's licensing agreement.

The very fact that the government agency in charge of killing inmates is trying to hide information on its stockpile of lethal drugs from the public is very troubling. What else aren't you being told? Do the drugs work as advertised? Or do inmates die a painful death while lying on a gurney paralyzed? And don't hold your breath that Attorney General Greg Abbott is going to order TCDJ to release the information - his track record is doing his best to prevent government agencies from having to release information to the public.

How's that for limited government?

If TDCJ officials can't be open and forthcoming when it comes to their stockpile of lethal drugs, then they sure as hell have no business pumping poison into the veins of inmates.

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