The recent batched ‘execution’ of Clayton Lockett shines a much needed spotlight on capital punishment and mass incarceration. Far too many people are languishing in prisons for relatively minor offenses. Our archaic criminal ‘justice’ system is in urgent need of major reforms. According to the Bureau of Prisons the federal prison population has grown a staggering 800 percent since 1980. 90% of prisoners have committed non-violent, minor offenses. The April 2011 report from the Pew Center reports the recidism rate ranges between 40% to 60% for these ‘Correctional Facilities’.
The mandatory sentencing was a reaction by a Congress who wanted to prove that they were tough on crime. The new Academy of Sciences concluded that at least 4% of death row inmates are innocent; the actual number may be substantially higher as the Innocent Project is chronically short of funds. A disproportionate number of inmates are black and people of color, which reeks of racial bias. The prison costs for states has mushroomed to over $50 billion a year compared to $9 billion in 1985.
Driven by tighter budgets, many states have eliminated prison time for nonviolent offenders. This is a welcome decision. Solitary confinement is an excessively cruel and costly form of punishment. Depriving prisoners of sensory stimulation only intensifies their rage and sense of helplessness.
Finally, the ‘eye for an eye’ death penalty should be abolished. It sinks us to the same level as the perpetrator of the crime and has been proved to be totally ineffective as a deterrent.