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Death Penalty, Is It Just? Essay

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“Inmates go crazy, become clinically mentally ill, in solitary conditions there. We end up with more staff assaults and greater instances of crisis management in a harsh and hostile environment for officers,” said Lance Lowry. He is the president of the union representing the 450 guards, give or take, on death row. These quotes can be found very easily bringing to light the mistreatment of inmates in death row prisons. There are many quotes from prisoners who are obviously struggling with very intense mental problems, but some guards even admit to seeing these prisoners lose their mind. This only comprises a very small fraction of the problems with the death penalty. The death penalty should be abandoned because death row prisoners are treated inhumanely, there is an uneven legal representation within trials, and execution is inhumane.

To understand why the death penalty has become what it is today it is important to understand the history of the death penalty. A collective set of landmark cases known as Furman vs. Georgia put a halt to the death penalty in the United States. Furman was convicted of rape and murder and as a result, he was sentenced to death. Furman and others argued that the death penalty was unconstitutional. He claimed it violated the eighth amendment. The eight amendment states that excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. He was able to convince the supreme court that his claim was true. This was huge for the future of the death penalty.

After Furman won his case there was a temporary halt of all executions in the United States and this became known as the moratorium period. Unfortunately, about half of the country still supported the death penalty. During the moratorium period spanning from 1972 to 1976, the states who wanted the death penalty rewrote their capital punishment laws hoping that the supreme court would approve of their changes. In another collective set of landmark cases known as Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court approved of the rewritten capital punishment laws. These new laws specified what types of murders had to take place in order to sentence a criminal to death.

Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White explained that “As the types of murders for which the death penalty may be imposed become more narrowly defined it can no longer be said that the penalty is being imposed wantonly and freakishly, or so infrequently that it loses its usefulness as the sentencing device” (Friedman, 10). This decision to make the death penalty legal again marked the beginning of the modern age of the death penalty in the United States.

As mentioned earlier, many prisoners are being mistreated for years in death row prisons. (Hazing, Namecalling, Treatment below human standard, poor living conditions, etc.) The Death Penalty is very complicated and dense, it’s unlike any other prison sentence. When a person is sentenced to death, they will have no idea when they will be executed, however, this topic will be covered in depth later. Sentences have gotten longer in recent years, but the treatment has not adapted.

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`What this means is that prisoners are still being treated like “dead men walking.” Rewind 50-100 years ago and prisoners were executed relatively fast. Sometimes executions would take place months or even weeks after sentencing. That’s not the case anymore. Prisoners are spending a decade on average in death row prisons and still being treated as if they will be gone in a couple of months. Anyone who does light research can find Jornal entries of prisoners or statements from exonerated prisoners discussing the physical and psychological abuse they have to endure from prison guards on a daily basis. This is what a prisoner had to say about lunch at the death row prisons. “We only get five to seven minutes to eat our meals, sometimes the officers don’t give us even that much. The food is half cooked, it has no taste whatsoever. We get no fruit or milk. We are all so lacking in vitamins till it’s not even funny anymore”.

Now, this may seem like a pet peeve that the prisoners shouldn’t be complaining about, but if you take into consideration that this is the type of food that they get every day for over a decade, any person would be complaining as well. They aren’t considering the prisoner’s basic needs and that can lead to an assortment of physical health problems in the future. Getting sick in a death row prison is even worse because there is a lack of responsive medical care. Most of the time, this absence of care is purposeful negligence, supporting the claim that the prison still treats prisoners as “dead men walking.” One prisoner said, “I have seen at least six men die of cancer or other major illnesses because they were not seen [seen and] diagnosed early enough”. Even desperate bids for care may be denied as one prisoner claims to have seen an inmate beg for his medication multiple times. The inmate was ignored by the staff and guards and he eventually began to cut himself. They then proceeded to take him to the clinic but only to stitch him back up. The next day he apparently banged his head on the corner of his bunk. His head split open and he lay there on his cell floor bleeding profusely as the doctor took an hour to come to his cell to check on the man. And to top it all off, the guards apparently laughed at the man as all this occurred. Death row prisons are a type of special housing unit, sometimes called a SHU, a security housing unit (pronounced “shoe”) or supermax or control unit. No matter the name, the theme is not special, or even minimum care, but total or near-total control of the captives who are deemed beyond care and correction. These settings are steeped in a laundry list of hurt and liss including “pain and suffering,” “isolation,” “fear,” “sensory deprivation,” “lack of human touch,” “lack of stimulus,” “anger,” “psychological warfare,” “torture,” “the smell of death all around,” “disrespect,” “lack of competent medical services,” “paranoia and mental illness,” “ and finally, “the guards belligerent macho attitude accompanied by sadism”. This is the blueprint for death row prisons all over the country. Even the lowest of low people should not be treated so poorly or else we become just as low as the prisoners. The difference between us and prisoners on death row is huge. Most death row prisoners are mentally and physically disabled and the people who run these prisons are perfectly functioning competent humans, yet we purposely fail to meet even the most basic needs of a majority, if not all, of our prisoners. Guards not only fail the prisoners when it comes to physical needs but they torment and taunt prisoners and take some sick twisted pleasure in watching the prisoners suffer. In death row prisons inmates have virtually no power or voice. Coupled with the guards near total control of the prisoners this power complex creates a stark division which creates a profound split between the guards and offenders; as a general matter, there is little hope of connection or understanding between these groups. This indifference becomes normal and abuse and antagonism often ensue. Prisoners are inferior beings in the eyes of the guards. Reports of cruelty and debasement are routine. This psychological abuse is often far more damaging than physical abuse. Some prisoners say that guards poke at them with sticks like some sort of animal. One prisoner of twenty-four years said that he lost count of how many times his cell was stripped of anything that gave him any sort of happiness. Prisoners even report having to stand naked in front of officers and surveillance cameras while handcuffed for hours. Guards even go as far as forcing prisoners to bend over and spread their bottoms and if not they shock, mace, or beat prisoners into submission. How many years can a human take mindless beatings and psychological punishment before losing their mind completely in a setting where human connection is scarce and all you do is sit, eat, and sleep? What kind of country can treat other human beings so poorly for decades and find pleasure in doing so? It is clear that death row prisoners are treated inhumanely and it needs to stop.

The abuse is only part of the problem, there is uneven legal representation throughout many of the death sentence trials. There is a big error rate when sentencing criminals to death. First of all, how is it that a sentence that is literally life or death, a sentence that is so sophisticated and something that should be weighed and considered to near perfection is often flawed. In a study conducted in 1973-1995, it was discovered that 68% of all death verdicts imposed and fully reviewed during that time were reversed by courts due to serious errors. The results from the study presented for the first time [in A Broken System, Part ll] reveal that 76% of the reversals at the two appeal stages where data are available for study were because of extremely incompetent defense lawyers, police and prosecutors had completely ignored evidence that would prove the criminals innocence or had committed other professional misconduct, jurors had been misinformed on the law, or there was an obvious bias seen in judges and jurors. It is important to look at the factors that may cause this system to fail. One major factor may be the fact that we use the death penalty a lot. The more you use the sentence the wider the range of crimes to which it is applied, and the more it is imposed for offenses that are not highly aggravated, the more the risk of error will increase when convicting other of the death penalty. There are four conditions that are strongly associated with high rates of serious capital error. The first one being, the closer the homicide risk is to whites in a state comes

to equaling or surpassing the risk to blacks, the higher the error rate. The second condition is, the higher that the proportion of African Americans in a state-and in one analysis, the more welfare recipients in a state- the higher the rate of capital error. The effect has more to do with the traits of the population at large, not those of particular trial participants. This means that trials are not just blatantly racist against African-American criminals, but it does, however, reveal unseen racism within the state. The state feels as if African-Americans are more likely to commit violent crimes and this raises the capital error. The third condition is, the lower the rate at which states apprehend, convict and imprison serious criminals, the higher their capital error rates.

It is important to understand what crimes have to be committed in order to apprehend, convict and imprison serious criminals. Index crimes are the eight crimes the FBI combines to unfold its annual crime index. These crimes include; deliberate homicide, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, larceny over $50, motor vehicle theft, and arson.

To continue, in states with one prisoner to every 100 FBI index crimes the predicted capital error rate is 75%. Error rates are at 36% for states with 4 prisoners per 100 crimes. Error rates plummet to 13% for states who have the highest rate of prisoners to crimes.

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Death Penalty, Is It Just? Essay. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
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