Solitary Confinement and The Death Penalty By Kenneth Reams

November 19, 2017

Today in America, 3,000 plus condemned inmates sit on death row. The vast majority of these condemned inmates are locked away in solitary confinement where they languish for prolonged amount of time under what has been described as cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. For these inmates the experience of living under the circumstances of solitary confinement for a continuum of unknown years amounts to human rights infractions and should require more national attention.

The consequences of years and decades on end on death row is the unintentional result of the lengthy appeals that condemned inmates are guaranteed — to ensure that none of their constitutional rights were violated during trial, which later turns out to be the situation in 58.2% percent of death penalty cases…according to recent studies. While death row inmates are across the country engage in these drawn-out legal battles they are subjected to dehumanizing effects of solitary confinement. This permitted isolation develops into years of what many classify as “no touch torture” and has been known to cause condemned inmates to exhibit what is recognized as “death row phenomenon”.
The term “death row phenomenon” is a legal term that was coined in 1989, during the extradition hearing held for Jen Soering, who was detained in prison in England pending extradition to the United States to face charges of murder in the state of Virginia. Soering’s legal team argue that the agonizing conditions he would endure in Virginia while on death row awaiting execution constituted cruel and degrading treatment. Soering lawfully argue that the endless time between sentencing and execution, and the harsh experience of living isolated with severely restricted freedom, limited touch with others, and continually under the fog of execution were ingredients of the phenomenon that would ultimately amount to psychological and physiological torture. The court would later rule in agreement with Soering’s arguments. Soon thereafter, others in different parts of the world began using the term to describe the cruelty of years on death row.
Since then, members of the United States Supreme Court have taken part in discussion on this matter, but the Court has never constitutionally address whether endless years of solitary confinement for condemned inmates awaiting execution violate their constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.
Despite one’s position on capital punishment our justice system is supposed to be built on fairness and humane treatment. But as a nation we must acknowledge that our current measures are failing. It is time to recognize the out-of-view harm that solitary confinement is known to inflict on condemned inmates in this country. Years and years of living in solitary confinement is clearly a double punishment for condemned prisoners. If we wish for our criminal justice system to rightly and justly mirror our values and fundamental principles of justice, then it is time for our society as a whole to give prompt attention to this human rights violation.

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