By Asar Imhotep Amen
(Aka T.T. Thomas)
Life without the possibility of parole (LWOPP), both as a general practice and through the specific methods of implementation and other surrounding circumstances, can amount 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 hich 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 disproportionally effects African American males which more than suggests that LWOPP violates The Convention on 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 particulary 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 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 Cali-fornia'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 circum-stance 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 mechan-istic determinants is the very definition of unconscionable. Indeed, a system based on the word of law alone doesn't need judges".
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) ; though 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. Though Davis' rehabilitatino 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 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, the act(s) were worse than the act(s) committed by those sentenced to LWOPP. In addition, many of those lifers with parole, an 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 develop-mentalists' 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 contraveness every standard of decency and humanity, and grossly offends our American ideals of justice, self-determination and the potential for human reformation/restorative justice.
A 2008 study by The Sentencing Project found that during the 1990s. a period of historic declines in the crime rate nationwide, "there was no discernable correlation bewteen 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 an 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 in-capacitation, there is little evidence supporting deterrent effect of increasing longer prison sentences".