Tag Archives: prisons

Water tainted with lead, copper at 2 state prisons

Some inmates, staff and visitors at two Wisconsin prisons say the water there is unsafe to use because of lead and copper contamination.

At Fox Lake Correctional Institution, about a dozen inmates told the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that the water at the 56-year-old prison is routinely yellow or brown with dark sediment and an unpleasant flavor.

At Waupun Correctional Institution, one longtime officer said he and other staff were not aware of high lead levels in the prison’s water in 2014, although officials insist legally required notifications were made that year when the facility violated the federal lead rule.

Prisoner advocate Peg Swan said she has been hearing from Waupun inmates for about a year about high lead levels in the water at the 150-year-old prison.

Fox Lake has been working to meet terms of a 2014 consent order from the state Department of Natural Resources to lower levels of lead and copper in its water, which have been detected on and off for at least seven years.

Lead and copper contamination is caused by corrosion from aging plumbing.

Spokespeople for the state Department of Corrections said the agency has employed several strategies, including closing one well and fixing three others at Fox Lake. Fox Lake will soon begin water treatment to prevent corrosion and regular monitoring for metals, said Jeff Grothman, the DOC’s legislative affairs director.

At Waupun, water treatment also is being used. Compliance testing at Fox Lake Correctional is scheduled to begin this month.

Fox Lake also has excessive levels of naturally occurring manganese, a metal that is not considered dangerous to adults except in high doses, but it can turn water brown and give it a bad taste and smell.

The prisons have not supplied either staff or inmates with an alternative water source, although inmates are allowed to purchase bottled water and staff can bring in water. Officials said both prison water systems now meet federal drinking water standards.

However, those standards do not always protect public health when lead or copper is present in a water system.

Water troubles at Fox Lake

Since 2008, 18 water samples at Fox Lake have exceeded the maximum contaminant level of 1.3 milligrams per liter for copper and six samples exceeded the maximum contaminant level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead, according to the DNR database.

Although they insist the water is now safe, Fox Lake officials have told inmates, staff and visitors about the high lead and copper levels and advised them to run the water for 15 to 30 seconds before using it for drinking or cooking, or when a faucet has been unused for more than six hours. The state DNR recommends running the water for two to three minutes under those conditions.

Several Fox Lake inmates and the family of an inmate said the water remains yellow or brown even after prolonged flushing.

Beverly Walker, whose husband, Baron, is serving time at Fox Lake, told a Madison gathering organized by the faith-based advocacy group Wisdom in February that she has heard “horror stories” from inmates about the water.

“Recently I was informed by my husband that the water was so dirty, they couldn’t wash dishes so they were giving the inmates paper plates to eat their food off of,” said Walker, of Milwaukee.

One of the 13 inmates who wrote to the center about water problems said he buys cases of 24 16-ounce bottles of water for $7.60 from the prison canteen — the only alternative water source. Similar cases of water can be purchased for roughly half that amount at Woodman’s Markets.

Inmates who cannot afford bottled water, Walker told the group, “would fill cups up and it would be dirty, dingy and metal pieces floating in the water. Now this is after they have let the water run for about an hour.”

DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab said she could not confirm the story about the paper plates. A DNR spokesman, George Althoff, could not identify the sediment but said whatever it is would show up in water tests.

Inmate lawsuit alleges harm

Inmate Ryan Rozak insists the water at Fox Lake Correctional is making him sick. He is suing corrections officials in federal court, claiming they are violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Rozak blames the drinking water at the prison for diarrhea and other health problems. The water, he said, “messes up my body, bones, mind.”

Fox Lake Correctional Institution inmate Ryan Rozak has sued prison officials over the high lead and copper content in the water. — PHOTO: Wisconsin Department of Corrections
Fox Lake Correctional Institution inmate Ryan Rozak has sued prison officials over the high lead and copper content in the water. — PHOTO: Wisconsin Department of Corrections

Rozak recently got two court-appointed lawyers to represent him in his 2015 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Madison, with Judge James D. Peterson noting the case presented “complex scientific public health issues.”

High levels of copper in drinking water have been linked in adults to nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Exposure to very high levels can cause kidney and liver damage.

Another Fox Lake inmate told the center in a letter that he is concerned about using the prison’s water for cooking. Heating water can concentrate the harmful effects of lead, which in adults can include lowered immunity, kidney failure, gout, high blood pressure and nerve damage.

“Many times we need to let all the faucets run for hours trying to clear the water from brown to clear,” according to the inmate, who said he works in Fox Lake’s kitchen. “I worry about the pasta and rice we cook, as this must be cooked in our dirty water.”

Other Fox Lake inmates reported skin rashes, which they blame on water from the prison. Residents of Flint, Michigan, also reported skin rashes after that city switched to a highly corrosive water source that sent spikes of lead from pipes and fixtures into residents’ drinking water. Michigan officials are studying whether the rashes and water problems are linked.

Lead, copper in water at Waupun

Drinking water samples from Waupun Correctional have exceeded the federal standard 10 times for lead and four times for copper since 2008, according to the DNR drinking water quality database.

Utilities — including the Fox Lake and Waupun prisons, which operate their own water systems — can have up to 10 percent of water samples test above maximum levels without violating the federal Lead and Copper Rule.

Althoff said the “vast majority” of the 140 water samples taken since 2008 at Waupun have tested below the federal limits. The prison hit the 10 percent threshold in 2014, he said.

That year, Waupun was required to notify water consumers of the high lead levels, and the DOC provided a notice that it said was posted at the prison for inmates and emailed to staff in November 2014. The prison added phosphate to the water to prevent corrosion.

Brian Cunningham, who has worked as a correctional officer at Waupun for 22 years, said he has no recollection of being notified of excessive lead levels in 2014.

In September, high concentrations were again detected at Waupun, including one sample that registered at 120 ppb — eight times the federal limit. Despite the high value, Althoff said the prison remains in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule.

Cunningham, president of the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement, said the prison did notify staff of the high lead level last fall. He added that “inmates have complained about the taste and the color of Waupun water since I’ve started working there.”

Editor’s note

Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Gilman Halsted contributed to this report. Failure at the Faucet is the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s ongoing investigation of risks to Wisconsin’s drinking water. The nonprofit center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Eyes in the sky: Drone growth elevates fun, raises privacy concerns

As many as a million kids and kids-at-heart had their wishes take flight when they unwrapped a drone during the holidays.

Consumer technology took a turn in 2015 and propelled domestic drones to new heights in popularity in late 2015 and early 2016.

But policymakers and privacy advocates see gray areas as more and more pilots send their small unmanned aircraft into blue skies.

More drone pilots than planes

Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Huerta announced in mid-January that there were more registered drone operators than registered planes in the United States. The FAA reports 320,000 registered manned aircraft and more than 325,000 registered drone owners.

The number of drones in the United States likely is higher — because operators might own more than one small unmanned aircraft and other operators might not be registered, according to Huerta.

The FAA launched a Web-based drone registration campaign just before Christmas, anticipating drone sales to skyrocket to a million during the holidays. The agency requires registration by operators of drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds, if they plan to fly outdoors for hobby or recreation. Registered drone operators receive a number that must be affixed to their aircraft.

An FAA exemption program exists for operators of drones for commercial activities — including bridge inspections, movie and television filming, aerial photography, mapping and surveying work, pipeline inspections and first-responder investigation and surveillance activity.

“The future is really here with drones,” said recreational pilot Kevin Fontaine of Green Bay. “They can be adapted for all kinds of fun and games and also used in all kinds of work. I first heard of them from a photographer friend. He was using a drone outfitted with a camera to make a zombie movie.”

The zombie flick, Horror in Mount Horeb, hasn’t reached a movie-going audience, but many films and TV programs featuring scenes filmed using drones have shown up on large and small screens.

“Drones have been instrumental in capturing some of the most iconic cinematography in recent memory,” said Randy Scott Slavin, founder and director of the New York City Drone Film Festival. 

“Drones are the most important cinematic tool since the tripod,” said Slavin, who referenced drone footage for the Oscar-winning opening sequence of Skyfall, the infamous Hamptons party scene in The Wolf of Wall Street and the many landscape images in the Netflix series Narcos.

This year’s festival — the first such event dedicated to movies filmed using drones — is March 4–6. The final day features “Day of Drones,” with screenings and demonstrations by drone builders and pilots. One activity, “Drone Vision,” provides an opportunity for the curious to strap on a pair of goggles to see what a drone camera sees as it zips around New York City’s Liberty State Park.

Fontaine said he’d like to refine his drone flying skills to take aerial landscape photographs this spring.

“I’m still learning how to use it and there’s a lot of potential,” he said. “But for now, it’s a toy.”

In the toy chest

Drones can be purchased for less than $50 and more than $500, but most cost $120–$200. They’re wowing consumers and retailers at toy fairs and trade shows.

At 2016 toy fairs, Odyssey Toys is showcasing the Pocket Drone, a collapsing video drone that’s about the size of an iPhone 6 — light enough and small enough to fit into a pocket. The built-in high-definition camera captures images to a 4GB SD card and the drone, which can be operated indoors or outdoors, features LEDs for night flying.

Another “wow” at fairs is a toy built for pilots as young as 10 — Spin Master’s Air Hogs Connect: Mission Drone, which combines drone-flying and smartphone gaming.

“It will be interesting to watch what happens as consumer unmanned aerial vehicle technology continues to evolve,” said Phil Solis, research director at ABI Research. The company monitors the tech market and predicts that consumer drone shipments will exceed 90 million units and generate $4.6 billion in revenues by 2025.

It also will be interesting to watch what happens with the regulation of drones as consumer, commercial and government use prompts concerns about criminal applications and security breaches — and raising questions about privacy rights. 

Rules and regulations

In December, the Center for Democracy and Technology proposed a set of voluntary best practices for drone operators, intending to protect privacy rights and support the industry.

The nonprofit, which advocates civil liberties and a free Internet, recommended:

• Commercial drone operators establish a privacy policy that describes the purposes for which the drone is used and the types of data the drone collects.

• Private drone operators should not intentionally use a drone to enter private property without the landowner’s consent.

• Private drone operators should not use drones to collect personal data without consent where an individual has an expectation of privacy; for persistent monitoring of individuals; or for employment, credit or health-care eligibility.

• Private drone operators should try to avoid collecting, retaining or disclosing unnecessary personal data without consent. When possible, unnecessary data should be destroyed or de-identified.

• Commercial drone operators should take basic steps to secure the personal data they collect.

Federal guidelines established by Congress require that recreational drone operators keep unmanned aircraft in their sight and below 400 feet, stay clear of manned aircraft, remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property, avoid flying and using drugs or alcohol, and avoid photographing people in areas where there is an expectation of privacy.

Drone pilots also must respect the no-fly zones established by the FAA and, increasingly, under state and local law.

A focus this legislative season in Wisconsin and elsewhere was on drone use near prisons. 

Drones were deployed to deliver contraband — drugs, pornography, cellphones and weapons — to prisons in Maryland, Ohio and Oklahoma in 2015. In Wisconsin, a pilot lost contact with a drone that landed on the grounds of the Waupun Correctional Institution.

The incidents prompted lawmakers to take up bills creating no-fly zones.

Simple steps to directing with a drone

Randy Scott Slavin, founder and director of the New York City Drone Film Festival, offers five steps to movie-making with a small unmanned aircraft:

1. Read. Read the operating manual for the drone and read federal regulations and any local and state rules on piloting a drone.

2. Practice. Drones are unique and have different flight characteristics. The only way to improve as a pilot is to practice.

3. Shoot. Slavin says “shoot constantly” with drone cameras.

4. Imagine. Drones put cameras in new places and can use cameras in new ways to re-invent how stories are told on film.

5. Share. Edit and share footage online and at festivals. It’s too late to enter the 2016 New York festival — nycdronefilmfestival.com — but not too late to prepare for 2017.

— Lisa Neff

Reach Lisa Neff at lmneff@www.wisconsingazette.com.

Wisconsin Assembly votes to prohibit drones over prisons

The Wisconsin Assembly began a push on Feb. 18 to get tougher on rogue drone use, passing a bill that would prohibit flying the machines over prisons and another that would create penalties for using them in crimes.

The bills follow a series of incidents across the country in which smugglers flew drugs, pornography or other contraband over prison walls. Wisconsin has not dealt with drone smuggling, but legislators say they want to be proactive.

The first bill would impose a $5,000 fine for flying a drone over a state correctional institution.

The bill’s authors removed a provision that would have allowed municipalities to establish additional no-fly zones for drones. The provision would have allowed municipalities to impose fines up to $2,500.

Drone operators and technology advocates testified at the hearing that it would create a patchwork of regulations, limit opportunities for commercial drone operators and clash with federal rules.

The second bill would increase penalties someone used a drone in a crime. People who used a drone to commit a less-serious misdemeanor would face up to $10,000 in fines and up to a year in jail. If it is a more serious misdemeanor, the status of the crime would change to a felony, with a maximum penalty of $10,000 in fines and up to two years in prison.

Defendants who use a drone to commit a felony would see their fines increase by $5,000 and face up to an additional five years in prison.

The Assembly passed both bills on voice votes this week, sending them to the Senate.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires drone operators to register with the agency and has been developing other regulations for drones, or unmanned aircraft systems. Almost 300,000 drone owners registered in the first month since Dec. 21, when the requirement began.

Local and state lawmakers have stepped in with their own regulations across the country, with some criticizing the FAA for being too lax. About 45 states considered restrictions on unmanned aircraft systems in 2015, according to the FAA.

The FAA warns it could lead to a “patchwork quilt” of regulations and stipulates that local and state regulations must fit with federal rules. 

Starving the Wisconsin prison system

As the wife of a Wisconsin correctional officer, I’d like to thank all of the DOC employees who continue to show their professionalism by showing up for work, tirelessly, despite their dismal treatment by department Secretary Ed Wall.

Wall has built a house of cards, with 10,000-plus people relying on it for shelter. Under Wall, vacancies in the staff of state prisons have quintupled.

There were 88 vacancies when he accepted his appointment. Today, there are more than 500. Wall, who has never worked one day within the confines of a correctional facility, continues to shoot from the hip managing his staff. He continues to implement policies that are destined to fail, policies that he knows will create more vacancies because of his mistreatment of staff. There is zero accountability because nobody oversees the secretary.

Use common sense when asking yourself, what is the ultimate goal? The answer: privatization. The vacancies within the DOC are staggering enough to shut down activities in the prisons and create mandatory overtime, all at extra cost to taxpayers. Gov. Scott Walker has long lobbied for privatization and Wall is the tool he’s using to accomplish his goal.

As a career politician, Walker made it no secret that he supported private prisons. Corrections Corporation of America has been one of the major contributors to his political career. Walker was instrumental in the legislation that authorized sending prisoners out of state in the 1990s and early 2000s, when he headed the Committee on Corrections. He sent roughly 5,000 inmates to different states, at a cost of $45 million to Wisconsin taxpayers. When they returned to Wisconsin, they came back with PlayStations, Xboxes and — among other things — pornography. All of these were allowed by the corrections facilities. We no longer send inmates out to other states for a reason — it did not work.

Research has proven that private prisons are plagued with lack of security, falsifying records to cover up understaffing problems (much like we are experiencing now), prisoner abuse, staff assaults and riots. They ultimately cost the taxpayers more money than state-run prisons.

In 2010, three inmates escaped from a private prison in Arizona, kidnapped two tourists and burned their bodies in their own camper. State investigators found the perimeter of the prison was left unmonitored for 15 minutes at the beginning of every shift, with only one person responsible for monitoring the perimeter at the time of escape. So many false alarms went off that staff in the prisons ignored them and one-third of the security staff had less than three months on the job — with zero training.

Yet Walker lobbied for privatization anyhow. Even then Gov. Tommy Thompson did not approve of Walker’s plan and each time Walker introduced legislation to privatize prisons, it failed.

When giving thanks this season, please remember to thank your state employees who, in spite of dismal treatment, continue to show up for workday after day because they know your public safety falls squarely on their shoulders.

Christine Ewerdt is a resident of Waupun.

FBI ‘assisting’ in probe of abuse at Wisconsin juvenile detention centers | Problems said to derive from Walker’s privatization scheme

Wisconsin’s juvenile prisons are under a broadening investigation over allegations that guards were terrorizing inmates — a situation that some observers blame on the inability to attract quality prison workers since the implementation of Act 10. That law, Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation stripping unions of bargaining rights, has created a shortage of both corrections personnel and teachers in the state.

 Walker now claims that inmates are safe now and personnel and policy changes have been made. The governor also promised that anyone found to have violated the law would be held accountable as a result of the investigation.

Investigators have been looking into a range of alleged crimes at the prisons, including sexual assault and physical abuse of youth, witness and victim intimidation, and evidence tampering.

The investigation, which Walker said initially focused on just a couple of employees at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons north of Wausau, began quietly more than a year ago and became public this week. The FBI said Dec. 10 that it was now “assisting” the state Department of Justice with the inquiry.

Walker said the Department of Justice told his office about two weeks ago that problems at the prisons were more widespread than originally thought. At that point, Walker said he instructed Corrections Secretary Ed Wall “to take aggressive action in dealing with both personnel and policy.”

But at least one person with inside knowledge of the situation has contacted WiG to complain that Wall has purposely allowed the situation to fester in order to support Walker’s ultimate goal of privatizing Wisconsin prisons. Walker has received big donations from the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America.

“There were 88 vacancies when (Wall) accepted his appointment. Today, there are over 500,” wrote Christine Ewerdt, the wife of a correction officer, in an op-ed for WiG.  

She said that Wall has never worked one day within the confines of a correctional facility and purposely implements policies that are destined to fail, to further Walker’s goal of privatization.

“The vacancies within the DOC are staggering enough today to shut down activities in the prisons and create mandatory overtime, all at extra cost to taxpayers,” Ewerdt wrote. “Gov. Walker has long lobbied for privatization, and Wall is the tool he’s using to accomplish this goal.”

Current and former staffers at Lincoln Hills and the affiliated Copper Lake School for Girls have described what they called a culture of indifference at the facility.

But Walker said it was premature to assign blame and he had no plans to ask for Wall’s resignation “right now.”

The corrections department said all people identified as harming juvenile inmates or putting them at risk have been placed on leave pending the completion of investigation. Troy Bauch, a union representative for workers at the juvenile prisons, said about 10 workers connected to the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities are on paid leave, including one for more than a year.

The Corrections Department has not identified other staff members who have been removed.

The department announced Dec. 11 that security staff at the juvenile prisons must now wear body cameras in “all interactions with youth during acts of youth aggression, crisis intervention, and other circumstances.”

The department also said it was expediting the investigation of and disciplinary proceedings against staff members involved in abusing inmates, referring allegations of wrongdoing to the secretary’s office, assigning additional psychological staff to the prisons, adding more security supervisors from other prisons to assist, and increasing the training for guards.

Portions of this story are from a report by The Associated Press.

European drug bans prompt U.S. to change modes of executions

There’s one big reason the United States has a dearth of execution drugs so acute that some states are considering solutions such as firing squads and gas chambers: Europe won’t allow the drugs to be exported because of its fierce hostility to capital punishment.

The phenomenon started nine years ago when the EU banned the export of products used for execution, citing its goal to be the “leading institutional actor and largest donor to the fight against the death penalty.” Beefed up European rules mean the results are being most strongly felt in the United States, with controversial executions making headlines.

In Ohio last month, Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die after a previously untested mix of chemicals began flowing into his body, gasping repeatedly as he lay on a gurney.

On Jan. 9, Oklahoma inmate Michael Lee Wilson’s last words were: “I feel my whole body burning.”

The dilemma again grabbed national attention when an Oklahoma pharmacy agreed to refrain from supplying an execution drug to the Missouri Department of Corrections for an upcoming lethal injection. Death row inmate Michael Taylor’s had argued in a lawsuit that recent executions involving the drug pentobarbital would likely cause “inhumane pain” — and, ahead of a hearing, The Apothecary Shoppe said it would not provide the drug.

EU nations are notorious for disagreeing on just about everything when it comes to common policy, but they all strongly — and proudly — agree on one thing: abolishing capital punishment.

Europe saw totalitarian regimes abuse the death penalty as recently as the 20th century, and public opinion across the bloc is therefore staunchly opposed to it.

The EU’s uncompromising stance has set off a cat-and-mouse game, with U.S. corrections departments devising new ways to carry out lethal injections only to hit updated export restrictions within months.

“Our political task is to push for an abolition of the death penalty, not facilitate its procedure,” said Barba Lochbihler, chairwoman of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights.

Europe’s tough stance has caused U.S. states to start experimenting with new drug mixtures, even though convicts’ lawyers and activists argue they increase the risk of painful prolonged death and may violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In an upcoming execution in Louisiana, the state is set to follow Ohio’s example in using the untested drug cocktail used in McGuire’s execution. It changed its execution protocol to use Ohio’s two-drug combination because it could no longer procure pentobarbital, a powerful sedative.

The execution was scheduled for February, but was stayed pending a federal judge’s examination in April regarding whether the state can proceed with the plan to execute Christopher Sepulvado, convicted in the 1992 killing of his 6-year-old stepson. 

In 2010, Louisiana switched from the established three-drug protocol to a one-drug pentobarbital lethal injection, but eventually that drug also became unavailable because of European pressure.

“The lethal injection that they are using now in certain states has never been tested, verified, let alone been approved for executions,” said Maya Foa of Reprieve, a London-based charity fighting the death penalty. “This amounts to using humans as guinea pigs. No doctor would ever do that.”

Ohio prosecutors counter that condemned inmates are not entitled to a pain-free execution under the Constitution.

Even if the effect of the two drugs used by Ohio “presents some inherent risk of discomfort, that does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment,” Christopher Conomy, an assistant Ohio attorney general, argued in court documents last month.

The U.S. execution dilemma goes back to 2005, when the EU restricted exports of goods “for the purpose of capital punishment or for the purpose of torture.” That ban includes items such as electric chairs and lethal injection systems.

The drug shortage then started biting in 2010 when Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, a sedative that is part of the normal three-drug mixture, stopped production. A few months later, Hospira dropped plans to produce it in Italy because the government there asked for guarantees that it would never be used in executions.

States in 2011 switched to pentobarbital, but Denmark-based Lundbeck Inc., the drug’s only U.S.-licensed maker, faced a public backlash and quickly said it would put the medication off-limits for capital punishment through a tightly controlled distribution system.

Fearing for their reputation, the companies never wanted to see their drugs used in executions.

As U.S. authorities started looking for other sources, Britain went ahead and restricted exports of sodium thiopental and other drugs at the end of 2010.

“This move underlines this government’s … moral opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances,” Business Secretary Vince Cable said then.

Germany’s government also urged pharmaceutical companies to stop exports, and the country’s three firms selling sodium thiopental promised not to sell to U.S. prison authorities.

The EU then updated its export regulation in late 2011 to ban the sale of eight drugs — including pentobarbital and sodium thiopental — if the purpose is to use them in lethal injections.

That produced a flurry of action in the United States. In May 2012 Missouri announced it would switch to using the anesthetic propofol, infamous for its role in Michael Jackson’s overdose death. But propofol, too, was manufactured in Europe, by Germany’s Fresenius Kabi.

Missouri’s plan prompted an outcry across Europe and the EU threatened to restrict propofol exports. That in turn provoked a medical outcry in the U.S. because propofol is used in about 95 percent of surgical procedures requiring an anesthetic, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

Pharmaceutical companies around the globe have been loath to see their drugs used in executions because the market is tiny and promises close to no financial gain, while potentially exposing them to costly bad PR.

In the United States, there is a variety of reason no U.S. manufacturer will supply execution drugs, from the desire to avoid lawsuits to the makers’ own opposition to the use of such drugs in capital punishment.

Fresenius Kabi, whose slogan is “caring for life,” swiftly moved to introduce a stringent distribution control to prevent sales to U.S. prisons. Another manufacturer, Germany’s B. Braun, immediately followed suit.

In October 2012 Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon expressed indignation, saying state and federal court systems, not European politicians, should decide death penalty policy. Still, a month later he backtracked and halted what was to have been the first U.S. execution using propofol.

Missouri and other states have since also resorted to custom-made batches of drugs, while refusing to divulge which pharmacy produced them.

The secrecy has led to new lawsuits, not least after safety concerns over such drugs arose in 2012 after contaminated injections from a Massachusetts facility caused a meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people and sickened hundreds.

An attorney for McGuire’s family supported the European position.

“I think it’s right for the (pharmaceutical) companies to draw a line when people are using the drugs for the wrong purposes,” said Jon Paul Rion.

In principle, there are a number of painkillers, sedatives and paralyzing agents that can kill if administered in high doses. But switching drugs will invite new lawsuits and could involve drawn-out bureaucratic or legislative delays — in addition to doubts about how quickly and mercifully these drugs can kill.

“Such botched executions go some way to debunking the myth that lethal injection is a humane way to kill someone,” said Reprieve’s Foa.

When Europeans criticize the U.S., they frequently cite the inequality of health care and the continued use of capital punishment.

Europe has seen autocratic or totalitarian regimes corrupting justice throughout the 20th century with people being executed for political reasons or without fair trial, resulting in strong opposition to the death penalty after World War II.

Western Germany forbade capital punishment after the war, just as Italy did. France, which gave the world the word guillotine, decapitated only a few people after WW II amid increasing public opposition.

“There will be no lasting peace either in the heart of individuals or in social customs until death is outlawed,” French Literature Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus wrote in 1957 in an influential essay.

France’s last execution now dates back almost 40 years. In Eastern Europe, the death penalty was abolished after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

An international AP poll in 2007 found that about 70 percent of those surveyed in the U.S. favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder. In Germany, Italy and Spain only about 30 percent did so.

Overall, experts say Europe’s judicial system is more oriented toward rehabilitation, not punishment. That is also reflected in drastically lower incarceration rates: Across the EU, about 130 people per 100,000 inhabitants are behind bars compared to 920 in the U.S, according to EU and U.S. Justice Department figures.

The death penalty has been abolished or suspended in all developed economies, except for the U.S. and Japan. Execution rankings have routinely shown the U.S. in the unusual company of China, Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

Vietnam has faced a similar dilemma to the United States, finding it difficult to import execution drugs from Europe since it switched from firing squads to lethal injection in 2011 on humanitarian grounds.

The anti-capital punishment camp has also gained ground in the U.S.

The number of U.S. executions has declined in recent years — from a peak of 98 in 1999 to 39 last year. Some states have abolished the death penalty, and those that carry on find executions increasingly difficult to conduct because of the drug scarcity and doubts about how well they work.

Public support for capital punishment also appears to be retreating. Last year, 60 percent of Americans polled said they favor the death penalty for convicted murderers, the lowest level measured since 1972, according to Gallup.

To counter the drug shortages lawmakers in some death penalty states — Missouri, Virginia and Wyoming — are now considering bringing back execution methods such as firing squads, electrocutions and gas chambers.

There are still about 3,000 inmates on death row.