THE BRONX, Ny. – The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced today that it will start the first round of testing this week for a soon-to-be nationwide program meant to deter repeat offenders from committing future crimes. The new program, known as Chemical Rehabilitation Therapy, is modeled after the three-drug combination which many states use against those condemned to die by lethal injection.
As of Monday, New York City’s main jail complex, known as Riker’s Island, will become the first U.S. prison to implement Chemical Rehabilitation Therapy. The prison’s North Infirmary now houses several ‘rehabilitation chambers’ similar in design to the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison in California.
“Following intake, inmates deemed eligible for rehabilitation therapy undergo a brief psychological evaluation before being transferred to the infirmary ward,” said Assistant Deputy Warden James L. Rosa. “Eligibility is determined based on any prior convictions the inmate might have and whether or not they’ve previously served time in a New York state correctional facility,” Rosa explained.
Once prison officials have deemed an inmate eligible for Chemical Rehabilitation Therapy, they are transferred to the ‘rehabilitation chamber’ where they are strapped down on a gurney while specially trained members of the infirmary staff prep them for the procedure. “The reason you often hear this process referred to as ‘less lethal injection’ is because it’s quite simply that. Once the drugs are administered, the inmate is immediately subjected to incomprehensible pain,” Assistant Deputy Warden Rosa said. “The procedure is meant to simulate imminent death,” he continued. “The desired outcome, of course, is that the experience will leave the inmate with a renewed desire to abandon a life of crime all together.”
“The main difference between Chemical Rehabilitation Therapy and lethal injection,” according to Dr. Jay Goldberg, the program’s founder, “is the elimination of pentobarbital.” In 2010, pentobarbital replaced sodium thiopental as the first drug administered during the execution process. Pentobarbital is an ultra-fast acting drug that, upon injection, renders the recipient into a medically induced coma within a matter of seconds.
“What we’ve done is remove the anesthetic aspect from the equation,” Dr. Goldberg said, continuing, “The patient is completely awake and alert throughout the entire procedure.” Prison staff then administer an injection of pancuronium bromide, a non-depolarizing muscle relaxant which induces moderate paralysis of the respiratory system and simulates suffocation. This is immediately followed by a second injection of potassium chloride which affects the electrical conduction of the heart muscle.
“Under normal circumstances, this combination would result in a total collapse of the respiratory system followed by a massive cardiac arrest and subsequent death,” Dr. Goldberg explained. “But for the purpose of rehabilitation, we’re administering a non-lethal dose.” Dr. Goldberg would not disclose the specific dosage used for each drug but said preliminary testing on lab rats proved the dosages to be non fatal in eight out of ten cases.
Dr. Goldberg stressed that Chemical Rehabilitation Therapy was designed to performed on inmates who are considered by the state to be repeat offenders. “The idea is that our program will prevent recidivism. Habitual offenders will be far less likely to continue down a path of self-destruction after experiencing Chemical Rehabilitation Therapy,” Dr. Goldberg predicted. “In essence, it gives many offenders a firsthand look at what for so many others is a last stop: the execution chamber. But unlike so many others, these inmates will receive a second chance to do the right thing.”