America’s Other Death Penalty Problem and Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOPP) and The Absolute Prohibition of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment- Notes from the Inside


Tiny - Posted on 18 April 2016

Author: 
Asar Imhotep Amen (Aka T.T. Thomas)- Plantation Prison Scholar

America’s Other Death Penalty Problem

What does it say about a country that can condemn 50,000 men and women to the slow, grinding death in prison of life without the possibility of parole? In 49 of these United States, the sentence of death by imprisonment is a well-used option. In several states- California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania- there are thousands of individuals suffering under this sentence, in the worst prisons, with the greatest restrictions, and the fewest privileges.

                The United States is a country that argues about whether a three-drug cocktail or the two-drug version is the acceptable way to execute people. Consequently, the plight of lifers without the hope of parole isn’t paid much attention. It doesn’t help that death penalty abolitionists think it is a great success when they convince a state to trade the grotesquerie of lethal injection for the boring drift into oblivion of life without the possibility of parole. It’s telling, however, that one of the abolitionist’s main selling point is that life in prison devoid of an end point is actually a much more severe punishment. For those singularly focused on the roughly 3,000 people on various death rows around the country, the 50,000 of us being killed slowly seems not to matter as much.

                It’s hard to put a finger on how life without the possibility of parole grew from a rare aberration to the fastest growing form of life sentence in this country. Maybe it’s roots lie in the punitive streak that’s part of the fiber of the United States. Or perhaps it’s because of death penalty abolitionists’ insistence that it’s the ‘reasonable’ alternative to a death sentence. Yet, I wonder that since both options result in death, what’s the difference? Regardless, death by imprisonment has steadily grown into the operative form of capital punishment in the United States.

                For those of us serving life without the possibility of parole, the most frustrating aspect of our situation is being trapped between the punishers’ to trade our lives for their cause, however noble. Because of this conundrum, our plight has never managed to attract much attention from scholars, lawyers, civil rights advocates, or the media. We are the modern-day disappeared inside America’s vast system of punishment.

                My experience of challenging the orthodoxy of opposition to the death penalty has taught me several lessons. First among these is the desperate need for intellectual and academic support-support from the brain trusts of the criminology world. The dominant conclusion in the United States is that life without the possibility of parole is the appropriate replacement to death by injection. This position is held and advanced almost entirely without critique. Until there’s strong scholarly research demonstrating the broader truth that my personal body of experiential knowledge has already taight me, it will remain difficult to dismantle these other ‘truths’.

                Deeper still, the accepted position holds that only the worst of the worst, the irredeemables, are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The reality is quite different and much more complex. Being sentenced to the “other death penalty” is much less a consequence of the severity of the crime than one’s ability to procure adequate representation, his or her socioeconomic status, and the color of his or her skin. This has been well-established and in regards to the lethal injection form of the death penalty, and I’d say it’s no different for the lethal term of imprisonment form.

                It’s difficult to be optimistic that this situation will change anytime soon. Before long, there will be 100,000 men and women sentenced to die in prison across this great democratic nation o fours. Life without the possibility of parole- a sentence that’s mostly unheard of in the rest of the world yet sadly is now being considered in countries like Canada- will continue to spread. What can put a stop to this form of sentencing? Is it okay to punish and torture prisoners for their entire lives? At what point will it become obvious that the terrible bargain was a disastrous mistake?

For more information and/or insight please feel free to contact:

Troy T. Thomas, H-01001, A1-227-UP      

CSP-LAC

PO Box 4430

Lancaster, CA 93539

 

Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOPP) and The Absolute Prohibition of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment

 

Life without the possibility of parole (LWOPP), both as a general practice and through the specific methods of implementation and other surrounding circumstances, canamount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (CIDT) a clear violation of International Covenants/Treaties of the United Nations/ Article 7 of the Covenant, expressly prohibits the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Under Article 1.1 of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), torture is defined as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.

 

U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan argued that it is a moral principle that “the state, even as it punishes, must treat its citizens in a manner consistent with their intrinsic worth as human beings- a punishment must not be so severe as to be degrading to human dignity”.

 

Life without the possibility of parole disproportionately effects African American males which more than suggests that LWOPP violates The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

 

“The death row/LWOPP phenomenon” is a relatively new concept that has emerged within the context of the implementation of the death penalty/LWOPP and the prohibition of torture and CIDT. The phenomenon refers to a combination of circumstances that produce severe mental trauma and physical suffering in prisoners serving death row/LWOPP sentences, including prolonged periods waiting for uncertain outcomes, solitary confinement or restricted programming, poor prison conditions (e.g., medical and mental health) which for example have resulted in major class-action lawsuits being filed and won ultimately resulting in the United States Supreme Court intervening on behalf of California prisoners. Prison conditions particularly in California, together with the anxiety  and psychological suffering caused by prolonged periods on death row/LWOPP, constitute a violation of the prohibition of torture and CIDT.

 

We believe it is necessary for the international community to discuss this issue and for states to consider whether life without the possibility of parole (LWOPP) per se fails  to respect the inherent dignity of the human person and violates the prohibition of torture or CIDT.

As a nation that prides itself as being “Democratic” and largely “Christian” and/or religious, we must push for a moratorium on all prison construction, abolition of the death penalty, and the abolition of the mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOPP). It is tempting to separate abolition of the death penalty from penal abolition, but because the death penalty is the centerpiece of our punishment system, work to abolish it must be understood within the context of the penal system as a whole. Often groups that work exclusively on the death penalty advocate life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOPP), without recognizing the longterm consequences of such a position. Seeing the issues as integrated parts of a whole is crucial. The criminal “justice” system as we know it is highly dysfunctional. In addition, policymakers who advocate mandatory life sentences to replace the death penalty are settling for “death by incarceration”.

 

LWOPP History:

LWOPP has a long history that stretches back to early 20th century America, but modern arguments for LWOPP purport its purpose as for serial killers and those so mentally deranged (psychopaths) that rehabilitation is physiologically impossible. Much like California’s Three Strikes law, the initial objective of the law widened as the law manifested. LWOPP has become a common sentence for crimes that, arguably are less heinous than some of those sentenced to 25 years to life, but for some technical trigger, the special circumstance is applied, elevating the sentence to LWOPP. In the poignant critical words of Patricia J. Williams (The Nation Magazine), on mandatory sentencing such as LWOPP: “The thought of reducing all guilt or innocence, all probation or prison into a soulless system of automation has been thought of as unjust for centuries. To convict or sentence or execute someone based on resolutely mechanistic determinants is the very definition of unconscionable. Indeed, a system based on the word of law alone doesn’t really need judges”.

 

Arguments:

One of many problems with LWOPP is that it completely prohibits a prisoner sentenced under its tentacles from being reviewed. The sentence of LWOPP implies that the prisoner is incorrigible, yet any objective study on this class of prisoners will show the opposite. In fact, a recent study conducted by the University of California (UC) and UC Berkeley found that prisoners sentenced to LWOPP were systematically being housed in maximum-security prisons, unnecessarily, wasting millions of dollars, when their long-observed behavior was consistent with lower custody designations. As a result of the study, all eligible LWOPP prisoners were reclassified for the more cost-effective, lower custody designations. In rather interesting language, relevant to the terminal sentence in question here, the statisticians were very critical of the “mandatory minimums” used by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for the purpose of classification (Expert Panel Study of the Inmate Classification Score System, Office of Research, Research and Evaluation Branch, December 2011 CDCR).

Charles Manson, convicted, arguably of the worst case in California history, is frequently reviewed by the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH); through conventional wisdom dictates that he will never be paroled (Associated Press, “Manson Denied Parole,” April 12, 2012). Yet any fair-minded observer would find it curious that, no one sentenced to LWOPP is privileged to approach the BPH, like Manson and his followers. In contrast, Manson’s 69-year-old co-defendant, Bruce Davis, convicted of killing two people in that horrific series of “helter-skelter” murders was able to earn a grant of parole, twice,  by experts on the BPH. Through Davis’ rehabilitation efforts for 42 years, after 27 hearings, he did in fact, prove he was rehabilitated (Deutsch, Linda, “Gov. Brown: No Parole for Killer,” Fresno Bee, March 2, 2013, p. A9). Davis’ parole grants were subsequently reversed by Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, respectively.

 

Ironically, LWOPP was originally enacted for such persons as Charles Manson, maniacal, incorrigible by his own mouth, and convicted of serial killing. A study, such as the one proposed here, would also reveal that in many crimes committed by the lifer with parole, and convicted of more egregious cases than those sentenced to LWOPP, enter the prison system and continue to commit violent acts, and yet, as they age, mature and rehabilitate (which is consistent with developmentalists’ findings), they are then found suitable by the BPH for parole and subsequently released.

 

This writer would proffer that to effectively deny and prohibit a class of people from even attempting to show rehabilitative effort contravenes every standard of decency and humanity, and grossly offends our American ideals of justice, self-determination and the potential for human reformation/restorative justice.

 

Practicality

A 2008 study by The Sentencing Project found that during the 1990s,  period of historic declines in the crime rate nationwide, “there was no discernable correlation between incarceration rates and criminal offending.” Between 1991 and 1998, “states with above increases in the rate of incarceration experienced a 13 percent decrease in crime rates. States with below average increases in incarceration rates, however, experienced a greater decline (17 percent) in crime rates.

Moreover, during the aforementioned period, tough-on-crime Texas saw a 144 percent increase in incarceration rates and a 35 percent decrease in its crime rate. Yet New York experienced a crime rate decline of 43 percent, despite its incarceration rate of only 24 percent.

The Sentencing Project report also stated that, “while imprisonment may work at some level to reduce crime through deterrence and incapacitation, there is little evidence supporting deterrent effect of increasing longer prison sentences.”

Eternal sentences mean that rehabilitated men and women, who are specifically prohibited from showing they have changed every bit as much as other lifers, will not leave prison except in a cold, lifeless body bag.

California has the highest proportion of life sentences in the nation, relative to the population (20 percent), with 1 in 6 prisoners serving life sentences. Among California’s 34,000 life sentences, nearly 11 percent are LWOPP. Is LWOPP practical? Is LWOPP necessary? LWOPP will cost America billions of dollars!

California/National Comparison:

With nearly 50,000 prisoners sentenced to LWOPP across the nation. America stands unique in its penchant for eternally locking up its citizens. Other countries such as Japan, Mexico, Italy, and Peru find the practice unconscionable (USA Today, “Van der Sloot Disclosure Reverberates,” June 9, 2010). Norway, Canada and a host of other countries limit incarceration to thirty years. Oregon has a provision that allows persons convicted of aggravated murder, the state’s most serious offense, to be reviewed after 20 years, for what is called a “rehabilitation hearing”. The purpose of the hearing is to determine if the prisoner is on a path to rehabilitation and if so, the prisoner may work toward release. Otherwise, they remain incarcerated. Not only is this approach more pragmatic, but the simple fact that LWOPP prisoners are eventually reviewed adds an element of humanity to the equation.

 

California prisoners sentenced to LWOPP can request a review through the executive level, for instance by commutation to the governor’s office, but not until the 30th year of incarceration, and there is no provision mandating a response. Given the shallow reasoning governors Schwarzenegger and Brown used to reverse the grants of parole in Bruce Davis’ case, many observers believe the process at the governor’s level is so entrenched in politics, commutation is not a realistic option.

 

This writer believes the sentence of LWOPP is completely unnecessary, because like Manson and others, any life sentence with the possibility of parole can be stretched into a perpetual term. The humanity in this approach is the individual is reviewed at some point, and consistently thereafter.

 

Otherwise how does society really know if one is incorrigible? Apparently, they got it wrong with Bruce Davis, according to the experts that granted him parole (not the politicians who reversed his grants). Until 1982, California allowed prisoners sentenced to LWOPP to be reviewed by the BPH after 12 years. The practice was discontinued through an administrative rule change. In 1992 the administrative rule change was codified through Assembly Bill 97, amendments 44 and 45, which eliminated any review by the BPH for those sentenced to LWOPP.

 

Nothing could be more unjust than to be eternally labeled incorrigible, and then wholly prohibited from showing otherwise. Marc  Mauer of the Sentencing Project said it best, “Society must question whether the broadscale  imposition of such penalties has resulted in the use of life imprisonment in ways that too often represent ineffective and inhumane public policy.” Shreveport, Louisiana, representative Patrick Williams, similarily said: “releasing offenders who  are deemed to be no longer a threat to society is not being soft on crime, it is being responsible with taxpayers’ dollars.” Do we really need LWOPP in California or in America in general? Does the theory of incorrigibility conflict with proven science?

 

The Political and Special Interests of LWOPP:

Crime Victims United (CVU), funded almost entirely by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), helped sponsor the expansion of California’s special circumstance laws in 1990 (New York Times, “Justice Kennedy on Prisons”, February 16, 2010). In addition, such  special interests have considerable political clout within the halls of government, especially through their trade associations (for instance, the American Correctional Association). A right-wing political organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council has committees responsible for writing and disseminating “model criminal justice legislation”. Again, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and guards organizations in most other states now fund a number of retributive crime-victims’ groups that join the guards in lobbying for longer sentences, harsher prison conditions (i.e., super max housing units-SHU), and expansion of the death penalty (i.e., life without the possibility of parole also known as “The Other Death Penalty”- LWOPP). What better prisoner to have in these slave factories than prisoners with LWOPP as there are no turnover rates to worry about? You can literally work prisoners to death!

During a February 2010 address in Los Angeles, California, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy expressed his disgust of the politicizing of prisons in California, stating that U.S. sentencing is eight times longer than in European courts. A few days later, in New York, Justice Kennedy was more specific in his criticisms of the co-mingling of California politics and justice, calling the tactics of the CCPOA in pushing controversial laws like three strikes, “sick”. Do politics and special interests have too much sway in California justice?

 

SENTENCING DISPARITIES:

The problem with politics and justice beholden to special interests is that justice gets so obviously tainted that, like three strikes, which the CCPOA also helped fund into enactment, sentencing becomes a nonsensical mishmash of results that, to the prisoner, end up more of a luck of the draw than any consistent formula that behavioralists  recommend to sustain any reasonable deterrent effect, no matter how slight.

 

Like three strikes, for which common thieves were being sentenced to more time than those convicted of murder, the current LWOPP laws in California offer the same type of admix of injustice. For example, Sarah Dutra was convicted of poison ing her boss with a tranquilizer, and was sentenced to 25 years (Smith, Scott, Sarah Dutra, “The Stockton Record”, August 2011).

Furthermore, Omaima Nelson chopped up and dismembered her husband in 1991, and was sentenced to life with parole (Taxin, Amy, “Omaima Nelson”, Orange County Register, 2011).

 

Mark Jernigan stabbed the mother of his girlfriend 78 times in 1986 and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole (USA Today, “Mark Jernigan”, October 12, 2011, p.3). Veronica Paz plead guilty to luring her ex-boyfriend to his death and was also sentenced with the opportunity to rehabilitate (KABC-7, “Veronica Paz,” February 11, 2011).

 

Then, there’s the case of Raymond E Godlewski, who hired Gene Flack to kill his father, Flack subsequently hired Michael Brown to assist with the murder plot by driving Flack to the victim’s residence. Flack knocked on the door, and when the victim answered, Flack shot him in the head. Incredibly, Flack was not charged with ling-in-wait, a special circumstance, nor for hiring Brown; only with murder for financial gain in the first degree. A jury found Flack guilty of second-degree murder, along with the financial gain allegation, of parole (People v. Raymond E. Godlewski, et al., 21 Cal. 8ptr. 2d 796 (1993).

 

In light of these facts, is there a wide and unjust series of discrepancies of LWOPP in California as well as across the country? Some would argue for LWOPP in wistful, theoretical terms-it ought to be possible to administer such a punishment equitably. The whole history of LWOPP argues to the contrary: its many flaws are not incidental, as LWOPP arises from a fundamental misconception- you cannot do a wrong thing in a right way. Life without the possibility of parole (LWOPP- “The Other Death Penalty”) is the ultimate form of injustice carried out in the name of justice and is an offense to human decency and is in fact a blatant human rights violation bordering on genocide against African American men.

 

It should also be noted that a people already invisible can be easily made to disappear as this is the primary function of ghettos and prisons in America!

 

RACIAL DISPARITIES:

A review by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (1991) found like disparities in the application of “three strikes”. It found that African Americans constitute 29 percent of persons serving a felony sentence in prison, and 45 percent of those persons serving a three strike offense. Yet African Americans make up a mere 7 percent of the Golden State’s population.

 

Race is important in the criminogenic context because, as behavioral scientists point out, race, like agee, often factor in when trying to determine how influence and perspective to the internal effects on a person or group of persons. For instance, the U.S. Department of justice, the state department of corrections, and the Vera Institute of Justice Center consider age 55 “old” in prison years, as opposed to their mainstream counterpart at 65, because studies show that prison tends to age people, particularly African Americans.

 

The reason given is that African Americans are generally in poorer health than those similarly aged in society as a result of lifestyle issues such as excessive drug and alcohol use, long-standing economic disadvantages prior to incarceration and substandard health care. Once in prison the inherent stressful conditions contribute to what developmentalists call allostatic load, the total, combined burden of physiological stresses that an individual lives with as they increase the risk of premature deterioration and chronic disease. Of course, these factors can raise the health risks of people across all sectors, but African Americans statistically have the highest prevalence of premature deterioration and chronic disease (Berger, Stassen, Kathleen, The Developing Person: Through the Life Span, Worth Publishers, 8th Ed., New York, NY, 2010). Based on these factors, developmentalists say incarceration shortens the life of prisoners, lifers or not, if they are serving a significant stretch of time (Patterson , J. Evelyn, Dr., “Life on the Inside and Death on the Outside: Complexities in Health Disparities Inside and Outside U.S. Prisons,” Prison Legal News, April 2013, pp.24, 25).

 

Developmentalists say this unique, dying population is expanding, attributable to the large numbers who have aged in prison with life terms and mandatory minimum sentences with no parole (LWOPP), after having committed crimes in their youth (it should be noted that the criminogenic risk of adults over 35 decreases steadily and significantly, and those over 50 represent the lowest risk). Moreover, African Americans are disproportionately represented among older inmates: about 700 per 100,000 African Americans adults 55 and older are in prison nationwide, compared with 420 per 100,000 Latinos and 130 per 100,000 whites (Hooyman, Nancy R., Social Gerontology, 9th ed.  Allyn & Bacon, Boston MA, 2011). Still, these rates of long-term incarceration are devastating to any ethnic group, causing generational, calamitous stunting.

 

Moreover, according to developmentalists, the primary reasons for the disparities, in every statistical measurement, is the persistent lower socioeconomic status of African Americans, which is tied to their history of disadvantage and discrimination in our society; including limited access to educational opportunities in their younger years; reduced employment opportunities and long periods of unemployment or under-employment throughout their lives; concentration in low-wage, sporadic service jobs, many with no benefits or the option of saving and private pensions (Berger, Stassen, Kathleen, Ibid., p.465).

 

Of course, other racial groups suffer the same disadvantages, but not in the historic concentration of African Americans. These facts, and so many more, highlight the remarks of Patricia Williams, that, mandatory sentences with little or no judicial consideration of the factors in an individual’s life make a person unique, turns the judicial system into little more than a pulseless conveyer belt to a very slow discriminating death sentence. LWOPP is applied disproportionately by race in America.

 

LWOPP: THE SLOW TORTOROUS DEATH:

On the topic of whether lengthy prison terms are lethal, Evelyn Patterson, assistant professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University says that “…studies on prison morbidity suggest that priosners are at risk for more diseases before, during, and after interaction with the criminal justice system… I looked at parolees in New York and examined the relationship between the length of time they served in prison and their life expectancy…The study indicated that, on average, every year in prison was accompanied by a two-year reduction in life expectancy. Moreover, while the risk of death declines over time once a person is released, it takes approximately two-thirds of the length of time served for someone to eliminate the life expectancy defecit.

 

The diet alone is mortal. Almost everything is served from a can, or is otherwise processed, which translates into high sodium meals laden with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl: any of several compounds that are poisonous environmental pollutants which tend to accumulate in animal tissues) certain to kill over consistent and prolonged consumption.

 

Quoting again from this writer, “Local prison policies also cause prisoners’ health to decline and health care costs to balloon. Pruno, otherwise known as prisoner-manufactured alcohol, is a popular substance among addicted imbibers. Pruno is easily made from fruit, but can be composed of anything, which can cause fermentation: rice, potatoes, corn, you name it” (Wiliams, Ibid., p. 24). For the sake of “security”, fruit is all but forbidden, though only a small minority of “wine manufacturers” exist. Such policies counter the medical wisdom of health experts such as D. David Katz M.D., who recommends men over forty consume at least ten servings of fresh fruit daily (Brant, John, “Look Great at Any Age”, Men’s Health, March 30, 2011, p. 146).

There are times when policy and environment converge malignantly. In April of 2013 J. Clark Kelso, the court-administrator appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court, ordered CDCR to transfer over 3,000 prisoners due to longstanding, long-ignored valley fever outbreak. CDCR is already under pressure to release 10,000 prisoners after it was learned that prisoners were dying needlessly in alarming numbers due to negligence, and it was brought to light that California has the highest suicide rate in the nation. Kelso limited his order of transfer to Filipinos and African Americans, the most vulnerable to the air-borne ailment, but recommended that Pleasant Valley and Avenal state prisons be closed entirely. While moving the most vulnerable prisoners seems reasonable, Dr. John Gagliani, a valley fever research expert says prison officials have done little to curb high infection rates in both prisons. Kelso reported that 62 prisoners from throughout the state died between 2006 and January of 2013; 70 percent of them African American (Egelko, Bob, “Transfers Ordered Over Illness.” San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2013, pp. C1, C4).

 

Stress is by far the most prevalent health risk. Stress is widely defined by behaviorists as “negative emotional state occurring in response to events that are perceived as taxing or exceeding a person’s resources or ability to cope.” Stress adds to and accelerates the “wear and tear” occurring in deleterious stages: the alarm stage initiates a variety of internal physical chemicals and responses in attempt to meet the demands of e stress-producing event; namely catecholamine (of the adrenaline group) that can cause hypertension, panic attacks, and other harm. The second stage, the resistance stage, diminishing the alarm stage, but prolonging its physiological arousal above normal levels. The exhaustive stage initiates if the stress producing event endures, awakening the alarm stage, this time irreversibly. As the body’s energy reserves deplete, adaption breaks down, the person becomes exhausted, and may experience physical disorders that could lead to death.

 

If a stressor is prolonged, continued high levels of internal chemicals, such as corticosteroids can weaken important body systems, lowering immunity and increasing susceptibility to physical illnesses. There is mounting evidence that chronic stress can lead to increased vulnerability to acute and chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, and even premature death. Chronic stress can also lead to depression, immune compromises, and psychological problems (Berger, Stassen, Kathleen, Ibid., pp. 471, 484; (The Merck Manual of Medical Information, Pocket Books, New York, NY, 1999, p.786).

 

Behaviorists have linked stress with negative effects on life span through particular DNA strands called telomeres. The DNA that a person’s genes are composed of are entwined in 46 chromosomes, each ending with a telomere, a stretch of DNA that protects the chromosome like the plastic tip of a shoelace. A study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found, among a sample of 5,243 nurses nationwide, that those who experienced certain stresses had shorter telomere. Carol Greider, a molecular biologist at John Hopkins University, a pioneer of telomere research says, “When the telomere gets very, very short, there are consequences; noting the increased risk of age-related ailments.” Furthermore, a German study found that people who live sedentary live are at risk for shortened telomeres (Stromberg, Joseph. “Expiration Dates: New Research Suggests We Can Defy Genetic Destiny,” Smithsonian, January 2013).

 

In light of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment where twenty-four college students were randomly assigned to act as prison guards or prisoners, the two week experiment was abruptly ended after just six days when those acting as prison guards became abusive. As Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo (2005), “Within a few days, [those] assigned to the guard role became abusive…” Putting it succinctly, prisons are inherently stressful places. It is for this reason that prison guards are allowed eight weeks of vacation time a year.

 

For prisoners, exercise is a healthy way to counter the constant stress of prisons. Behaviorists say that exercise at every stage of life protects against illnesses; reducing blood pressures, strengthening the heart and lungs, and off-setting depression. However, frequent lockdowns make regular exercise challenging, to say the least. When prisoners cannot exercise on the yard, cramped cells designed for one, but occupied by two, make it nearly impossible to supplement exercise yard. By contrast, sitting for long hours correlates with almost every unhealthy condition, especially heart disease and diabetes, both of which carry additional health hazards beyond the disease itself (Berger, Stassen, Kathleen, Ibid., pp. 478-564). The evidence is quite clear that lengthy prison sentences diminish the health and life span of prisoners.

 

CONCLUSION:

“By creating a justice system based on offense rather than actual risk, you’re going to end up sweeping more people into the system who don’t need to be there. It looks to us like it’s more a public relations measure than a public safety measure,” says Tracy Valazquez of the Public Policy Institute.

 

Quoting from John E. Dannenburg of Prison Legal News, “Fewer than 1 percent of paroled California murderers have returned to prison for committing new offenses- a figure that contrasts sharply with the 70 percent recidivism rate for other released state prisoners”.

 

James Austin, a leading figure in the criminologist profession, says that “a growing body of science shows that the prison-only approaches may feel good initially- and be safe politically- but an over-reliance on incarceration ultimately can make matters worse.” In other words, there is limited scientific evidence that longer prison terms reduce recidivism or crime rates. Moreover, sentences that defy the decency of humanity, and make prisoners all but ghosts of society, in a netherworld hinging on life or death, pushing the prisoner to the latter by conditions that offend empirical approaches of contemporary behaviorists are warped.

 

The American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee and Amnesty International have all openly denounced life without the possibility of parole (LWOPP) or expressed concerns about it.

The Sentencing Project listed three major recommendations for sentencing reform in America: Eliminate life without the possibility of parole as costly, short-sighted and a punishment that ignores the potential for growth and transformation. All life sentences should be parole eligible, with periodic reviews like that of Charles Manson’s.

 

In agreeing with the findings of the criminologists at Universities of California Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, and UCLA, Matthew Cate, the secretary of CDCR, says “If science says we can move inmates in lower-level settings safely, then that helps us with realignment because we’re able to more fully utilize our lower-level prisons. I know that’s what the science says. Should we just rely on the science when it is convenient?”

Correspondence: Troy T. Thomas, H-01001

CSP-LAC

PO Box 4430

Lancaster, CA

93539

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