Category: death penalty

From Military Industrial Complex to Prison Industrial Complex

By , December 20, 2009 9:23 am

In the 1950s and through the 1960s and 70s, you had a huge number of revolutions going on. Colonized peoples were kicking the French out of Algeria, the U.S. out of Vietnam, and so forth, all over the world. Here at home, there were also the beginnings of a revolution: everything from the civil rights movement to the anti-war movement to groups like the Black Panthers getting together and saying “we’re not going to take this any more.” People around the world were trying to liberate themselves from the institutions of colonialism, racism, and capitalist oppression. In my view, the origins of the modern PIC emerge out of the contexts of those struggles. More specifically, I think that the origins of the modern PIC are in what we might call the counter-revolution: the reaction to these struggles.

I find it hard to accept arguments that suggest a lot of guys woke up one morning and said “hey, I have an idea, let’s be mean to black people,” and got all their friends on the phone and went into a smoke-filled room and got busy. And that black people were just walking around minding their own business and then all of the sudden they got snapped up in the dragnet. Especially because, the morning before, these guys were already being mean to black people.

I like to think about it this way: in the 1950s and 60s, there really were people struggling on radical and reformist fronts, struggling for example to get rid of American apartheid. People were fighting really, really, hard and dying a lot in this struggle. The problem that the U.S. faced was that even though they could demonize this or that little group, there was enough of a positive response to anti-racist or anti-colonialist struggle that the state couldn’t really contain it. They really didn’t know where it was going to go. There really was disorder in the streets – and not all of it was following a political agenda, not all of it was fleshed-out in many years of study groups. Some of it was spontaneous and erratic and some of it was spontaneous and really great. And so the state’s response was “what do we have? We lost Jim Crow. Culturally, we still have racism, so we don’t have to worry about it too much, but legally Jim Crow is no longer a weapon. What do we have left in the arsenal? Well, we have all the lawmaking that we can do. And we do have the cultural idea that there’s something wrong with ‘those people’: the colonized or the victims of apartheid.” During this time, we saw the conversation around race change from “they’re just not smart enough” to “they’re not honest enough.” “Crime” became the all-purpose explanation for the struggles and disorder that were going on.

via Recording Carceral Landscapes.

There Is No ‘Humane’ Execution

By , December 15, 2009 10:13 am

This is what passes for progress in the application of the death penalty: Kenneth Biros, a convicted murderer, was put to death in Ohio last week with one drug, instead of the more common three-drug cocktail. It took executioners 30 minutes to find a vein for the needle, compared with the two hours spent hunting for a vein on the last prisoner Ohio tried to kill, Romell Broom. Technicians tried about 18 times to get the needle into Mr. Broom’s arms and legs before they gave up trying to kill him. Mr. Biros was jabbed only a few times in each arm.

Ohio adopted the single-drug formula after the botched execution. It may well be an improvement over the three-drug cocktail, or may not. (Death penalty advocates who hailed it as less painful have no way, obviously, of knowing that.) But the execution only reinforced that any form of capital punishment is legally suspect and morally wrong.

via Editorial – There Is No ‘Humane’ Execution – NYTimes.com.

Legal Scholar Calls Withdrawal of Model Penal Code a “Quiet Blockbuster” | Death Penalty Information Center

By , December 14, 2009 10:11 am

Not all the important turning points in America's epic struggle over the death penalty get noticed immediately by the mass media and the public. A quiet blockbuster this year was the decision of the American Law Institute, a little-known but prestigious organization of lawyers and judges, to withdraw its approval for the standards created by the institute's 1963 Model Penal Code to guide juries in the choice between long prison terms and execution.

Ordinarily, the decision of a non-governmental organization to reject a sentencing system it adopted in the early 1960s would richly deserve public obscurity. With states like New York and Massachusetts turning back efforts this decade to revive capital punishment, and with New Jersey and New Mexico abolishing their death penalties, why pay much attention to the American Law Institute? Because the institute has pulled the intellectual rug out from under the current system of deciding between life and death in 30 death-penalty states.

via Legal Scholar Calls Withdrawal of Model Penal Code a “Quiet Blockbuster” | Death Penalty Information Center.

Hire a Lawyer, Avoid the Death Penalty | Criminal Justice | Change.org

By , November 11, 2009 5:30 pm

If you hire a lawyer, the chances are you won’t be sentenced to death in Houston.

University of Denver Criminologist Scott Phillips reviewed 504 capital indictments over three decades in Harris County, Texas, and found that defendants who hired lawyers for the entire trial were never sentenced to death — and were more likely to be acquitted.

The results of his study, published over the summer in the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, are truly stunning. Since nearly all defendants facing the death penalty in Harris County were poor, Phillips argues that his results further demonstrate the arbitrariness of capital punishment. If a defendant’s family and community is able to pool resources to hire an attorney, the paid attorney might be better equipped to investigate a case or to bring bargaining power to the table against a district attorney.

He makes clear that his findings aren’t an indictment of appointed attorneys, but of the system that straddles those attorneys with thin resources in a death penalty case. Something clearly went wrong for results this drastic.

via Hire a Lawyer, Avoid the Death Penalty | Criminal Justice | Change.org.

Ex-governor’s death penalty skepticism a welcome step

By , October 25, 2009 9:55 pm
Use of the death penalty around the world (as ...
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Former Texas Gov. Mark White did last week what he could never have done during his two campaigns for state attorney general and three bids for the governor’s office.

He said it is time for Texas to rethink the use of capital punishment and replace the death penalty with life in prison.

You see, no one can run a successful statewide campaign in Texas — the death penalty capital of the country — without being for capital punishment. Just ask any of the candidates already running for governor in next year’s election. They wouldn’t dare come out against the ultimate legal penalty.

via Ex-governor’s death penalty skepticism a welcome step | Editorials & Opinions | Star-Tele….

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Poll of Police Chiefs Shows Death Penalty Ranked Least Among Crime-Fighting Priorities

By , October 25, 2009 9:49 pm
WASHINGTON - JULY 01:  Buttons and stickers ar...
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California spends $137 million per year on the death penalty and has not had an execution in almost four years, even as the state pays its employees in IOUs and releases inmates early to address overcrowding and budget shortfalls.

A report was released earlier this week by the Death Penalty Information Center. It concludes that states are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty, draining state budgets during times of economic crisis when money could be used more effectively on other programs.

According to the report, a nationwide poll of police chiefs found that they ranked the death penalty last among their priorities for crime-fighting, do not believe the death penalty deters murder, and rate it as the least efficient use of limited taxpayer dollars.

via Poll of Police Chiefs Shows Death Penalty Ranked Least Among Crime-Fighting Priorities.

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Arizona May Turn Death Row Over to Private Companies – NYTimes.com

By , October 24, 2009 7:30 pm
Prison-cell-like but private
Image by Casey Serin via Flickr

FLORENCE, Ariz. — One of the newest residents on Arizona’s death row, a convicted serial killer named Dale Hausner, poked his head up from his television to look at several visitors strolling by, each of whom wore face masks and vests to protect against the sharp homemade objects that often are propelled from the cells of the condemned.

It is a dangerous place to patrol, and Arizona spends $4.7 million each year to house inmates like Mr. Hausner in a super-maximum-security prison. But in a first in the criminal justice world, the state’s death row inmates could become the responsibility of a private company.

State officials will soon seek bids from private companies for 9 of the state’s 10 prison complexes that house roughly 40,000 inmates, including the 127 here on death row. It is the first effort by a state to put its entire prison system under private control.

via Arizona May Turn Death Row Over to Private Companies – NYTimes.com.

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DPIC Releases New Report on Costs of the Death Penalty and Police Chiefs’ Views

By , October 20, 2009 7:27 am

The Death Penalty Information Center has released its latest report, “Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis.” The report combines an analysis of the costs of the death penalty with a newly released national poll of police chiefs who put capital punishment at the bottom of their law enforcement priorities.

via DPIC Releases New Report on Costs of the Death Penalty and Police Chiefs’ Views | Death Penalty Information Center.

Botched execution brings reprieve | Cincinnati.com | The Cincinnati Enquirer

By , September 16, 2009 11:46 am

LUCASVILLE – A condemned inmate whose execution was stopped because of problems finding a usable vein will remain in the same maximum security prison over the next week.

Prisons spokeswoman Julie Walburn says inmate Romell Broom has been placed in a cell in the infirmary at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Walburn says Broom is on close watch similar to the constant observation of death row inmates in the three days before an execution.

Death row inmates are housed in a Youngstown prison and executed in the death chamber at Lucasville. There’s no precedent for housing an inmate whose execution didn’t work.

After an execution team spent about two hours trying to find a usable vein on Broom’s arms and legs, Gov. Ted Strickland ordered a week’s reprieve for the 53-year-old convicted rapist-murderer from Cleveland.

In a prison witness room, the parents and aunt of Tryna Middleton – who was fatally stabbed on Sept. 21, 1984 – watched silently as prison nurses struggled to keep Broom’s veins open for a lethal mix of chemicals to execute him.

There were so many logistical problems encountered Tuesday by an experienced execution team that Broom was never moved to the injection table in the adjoining death chamber. The Middletons and four news reporters, including from The Enquirer, watched the process via television monitors as prison staff tried to hook Broom to tubes in preparation for lethal injection.

Several times, Broom rolled onto his left side, pointed at veins, straightened tubes or massaged his own arms to help prison staff keep a vein open. He was clearly frustrated as he leaned back on the gurney, covering his face with his hands and visibly crying. His stomach heaved upward and his feet twitched. There is no audio from the holding cell, so reporters could only watch his movements. When the staff tried to put IVs in his legs, Broom looked up toward the camera above, appearing to grimace, at least four times, from pain.

via Botched execution brings reprieve | Cincinnati.com | The Cincinnati Enquirer.

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