Six states have abolished the death penalty in the past six years—Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and New Mexico. We haven’t seen mass moves like that since the 1960s. What gives?

Part of the answer is that those states weren’t executing anyway. More people in those states were dying on death row waiting to be executed than were actually being executed, and the death penalty is breathtakingly expensive to maintain (a point to which I’ll return in a moment).

So why weren’t the states executing? We tend to hear about innocence claims, trench warfare litigation, official moratoriums, study commissions, and the like. But there’s another phenomenon that has quietly wreaked havoc in the administration of the death penalty in the United States: the dearth of death penalty drugs.

Here’s the backstory.

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2013