It might not be the death sentence which is the crime, but Death Row

Corrections officers patrolling the tough death row prison in Texas are pleading the state to make conditions more humane for inmates and prevent “daily” threats to staff safety.

Staff leaders say years of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation literally drive inmates mad and make them more likely to wound the guards, riot or attempt escape.

The guards want inmates to be able to share two to a cell and use an iPad or similar computer tablet to watch television on a secure internal network as incentives for good behaviour.

There are almost 300 prisoners at the male death row prison in Livingston 80 miles north of Houston, Texas, who spend an average of 15 years there between sentencing and their execution.

They spend 23 hours a day alone in a concrete, featureless cell measuring six feet by 10 feet with a small, sealed window and a solid steel door, where food is delivered through a slot. They are allowed out to exercise alone in a cage for one hour and may have books, writing material and a radio.

I’m inclined to the belief (and realise that many here will disagree with me) that 15 years of that sort of treatment is a crime against the human rights of said condemned.

From what I’ve read about the UK system before abolition the condemned were treated markedly better than those in the general prison population while waiting for that retribution that was to come.

11 thoughts on “It might not be the death sentence which is the crime, but Death Row”

  1. But this is a whole part of the US process of allowing the extended appeals. To appease the hangers, burners, shooters and gassers (depending on your state), they made the conditions on Death Row as awful as legally practical (i.e. just above the constitutional ‘cruel and unnatural’ level.)

    Solitary confinement, in practice, being a necessary condition in prison for a limited number of prisoners, either for their own safety or as a temporary measure.

    Of course, at the time, they were expecting delays of a few months for the legal process to run to fruition but an unholy alliance between the lawyers and the abolitionists has extended this almost indefinitely.

    Disclaimer – not in favour of the death penalty. Not out of principle but because I don’t trust the legal system not to have endemic bias and, even if nominally ‘fair’, not to get it horribly wrong on occasions. Often assisted by the screaming of the media under the excuse of ‘public opinion’.

  2. Best argument I ever heard against the death penalty — and the only 100% unassailable one — came from Christopher Hitchens: it constitutes destruction of evidence.

    As for the conditions, to each their own. If I had to be in prison, I’d want access to books, some peace and quiet to read them, and not to have to mix with other prisoners. TV and films would be nice too, so I hope they get their iPads, but there are a lot of books out there.

  3. Texas’ death row used to be the most permissable one in the US, until a mass escape attempt, which resulted in one murderer escaping – later found drowned in a local river.

    That is why the increased security.

  4. My disclaimer – I am against the death penalty in principle.

    If I were a prisoner on Death Row I would say “yes please” to being in the open air 12 hours a day, to the ipad, to TV and to books. But sharing a cell: “fuck off, he’s a murderer!!!”

  5. If you’re going to have the Death penalty, get on with it and execute the condemned. The endless appeals they have in the States shows that they don’t really have any faith in their Justice system. (Quite rightly, in my opinion.)

  6. I’ve always assumed the US system is designed to disprove the assertion made by anti-death-penalty campaigners that killing someone is the worst thing you can do to them.

  7. “15 years of that sort of treatment is a crime against the human rights of said condemned.”

    Indeed. Execute the condemned within one year of condemnation.

    The problem in the U.S. is a woefully inadequate judicial system. The courts are so bogged down, it takes up to two years to get a hearing date. As the condemned are allowed appeals at the state and federal level, the process drags on for 15 years.

    The problem of taking two years to get a hearing date has ramifications across society, not just with criminal executions.

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    Surreptitious Evil – “But this is a whole part of the US process of allowing the extended appeals.”

    More accurately it has to do with the opponents of the Death penalty being determined to delay the process as long as possible in an effort to get rid of the death penalty altogether.

    “To appease the hangers, burners, shooters and gassers (depending on your state), they made the conditions on Death Row as awful as legally practical (i.e. just above the constitutional ‘cruel and unnatural’ level.)”

    Actually no. It is to protect other prisoners. It is a product of jails being sued when prisoners are attacked by other prisoners. Which means that some prisoners are just too dangerous to be kept with other prisoners. When the US legal system took a much more relaxed approach to violence in prisons – Texas for instance used to rely on Trustees to run their prisons with a handful of guards and Administrators – there was no need.

    “Solitary confinement, in practice, being a necessary condition in prison for a limited number of prisoners, either for their own safety or as a temporary measure.”

    Not to mention the safety of other prisoners. Two to a cell means prison rape. And what are you going to do – punish the guilty?

    “Disclaimer – not in favour of the death penalty. Not out of principle but because I don’t trust the legal system not to have endemic bias and, even if nominally ‘fair’, not to get it horribly wrong on occasions.”

    So you have chosen a system that also gets it horribly wrong by allowing murderers to kill again and rapists to rape again? Is this a relative thing where you think the State makes more mistakes than prisoners or an absolute thing where hundreds of dead civilians are fine as long as the State has clean hands?

    The main point being this is not the punishment. This is the result of do-gooders deliberately trying to make the system fail. They should go back to executing three working days after the trial.

    By the by, the first Supermax, which was basically the same as Death Row but on a grander scale, was not in the US. It was invented by Australians. Who do not have a hanging, shooting or gassing lobby. Not that you would notice anyway. But they probably aren’t keen on prison rape.

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