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Home > civil liberties, criminal justice > Important New Paper From ACLU Looks at Impact of Solitary Confinement on Death Row Inmates

Important New Paper From ACLU Looks at Impact of Solitary Confinement on Death Row Inmates

Image via ACLU

Image via ACLU

The paper opens thusly:

Most death row prisoners in the United States are locked alone in small cells for 22 to 24 hours a day with little human contact or interaction; reduced or no natural light; and severe constraints on visitation, including the inability to ever touch friends or loved ones.

This stark reality endures at a time when the United States’ experiment with the death penalty is at a crossroads. On one hand, in 2013, another state repealed the death penalty ‟ Maryland. That makes six states in the last six years ‟ Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, and New York ‟ that have repealed the death penalty, bringing the number of states without it to 18. Today, more than half of the states have either eliminated the death penalty completely or have not executed anyone for at least 10 years. Thirty states, plus federal and military jurisdictions, have not executed anyone in at least 5 years. This steady march toward repeal seems to indicate that it is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court will declare the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment and bar its use nationwide.

But until that time, many states will continue efforts to execute, often after death-sentenced prisoners have languished in solitary confinement on death row for years and even decades. Death row prisoners are subjected to these harsh conditions not because of their conduct in prison or any demonstrated dangerousness to staff or other prisoners. They are subjected to extreme isolation due to their sentences alone.

While many in the United States understand that part of the horror of the death penalty is living day in and day out with the threat of execution, most are unaware that the vast majority of death row prisoners also suffer under conditions of extreme isolation that compromise their physical and mental health and needlessly inflict pain and suffering. Indeed, researchers have found that the clinical effects of extreme isolation can actually be similar to those of physical torture. For this reason, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment found that solitary confinement conditions can amount to “inhuman and degrading treatment” and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a global ban on solitary confinement in excess of 15 days.

The report also contains this horrid and harrowing description of what solitary confinement is really like, from Anthony Graves, a former death row inmate who was wrongfully convicted and ultimately exonerated of a crime he did not commit:

I saw guys who dropped their appeals because of the intolerable conditions. Before his execution, one inmate told me he would rather die than continue existing under these inhumane conditions. I saw guys come to prison sane, and leave this world insane, talking nonsense on the execution gurney. One guy suffered some of his last days smearing feces, lying naked in the recreation yard, and urinating on himself.

Check out the entire report here.

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  1. July 24, 2013 at 3:30 am
  2. July 24, 2013 at 9:39 am

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