Analyzing Capital Punishment Issues Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Capital Punishment

Solitary confinement represents one among the best means of keeping modern-day prisoners from communication and conflict, but has the most injurious effects on their health. Individuals imprisoned in conditions of solitary confinement demonstrate more psychotic behavior compared to normal prisoners; this includes higher rate of suicides (Thesis Statement). After a prisoner loses his/her mental capacity of understanding the reason for his/her imprisonment or punishment, subjecting him/her to solitary confinement is pointless. If one loses one's ability of understanding punishment, the consequences associated with one's actions become irrelevant and have no value. Thus, solitary confinement is crueler than capital punishment.

Lately, the subject of whether or not solitary confinement constitutes greater torture for prisoners than capital punishment (or death penalty), is gaining popularity (Writer Thoughts). The debate has reached a juncture where the favored option is capital punishment.

Solitary Confinement/Capital Punishment Background

During the early part of the 19th century, the concept of prisons was relatively new. Until that time, punishment for criminal offenses was meted out by communities. Some adopted the Hammurabian method of eye-for-eye retaliation, with public executions in packed town squares being the penalty for crimes, ranging from burglary to rape and murder. With the evolution of more nuanced judicial systems, community leaders looked for more civilized punishment methods, and even started toying with the "rehabilitation" concept (Biggs, 2009). The U.S. Supreme Court, in the latter part of the 19th century, started examining the growing pool of European clinical evidence, which demonstrated that solitary confinement was linked to dire psychological consequences. In Germany, where the isolationist Pennsylvania penal model was implemented, doctors noted a sharp rise in cases of psychosis among prison inmates. In the year 1890, the adoption of long-lasting solitary confinement as punishment was condemned by the nation's High Court, which noted that a significant number of inmates reached a stage of semi-fatuousness, while others exhibited violent insanity. Prisons constructed after this era (including Angola) increasingly took the shape of secure dormitories built for captive manual workers, as intended by the Auburn prison system. Prisoners were made to work for prison industries; this activity kept them busy while also aiding the institutions' maintenance. For instance, the "Sing Sing" prison was constructed atop a mine, entirely out of rocks underlying it, using the efforts of inmates.

The Eastern State Penitentiary, where the infamous "Philadelphia system" was born, failed miserably and closed down in the year 1971 -- a century after the "total isolation" idea was called off. However, what the system revealed concerning solitary confinement's torturous effects would have been attractive to people more concerned with retribution than with rehabilitation. In the last century, solitary confinement took the shape of a wholly punitive tool utilized for breaking the spirit of violent, disobedient, or disruptive inmates. However, it has seldom been employed as a long-duration punishment even by the most vengeful of wardens. After all, while broken spirits supposedly eliminate danger, danger is created by broken minds (Biggs, 2009). Nevertheless, in the last twenty-five years, the modern penal system appears to have reverted to the practices (minus the theories) governing Eastern State's Philadelphia System. Today's society does not trust the "penitent" element of "penitentiary" any longer and, clearly, "corrections" systems fail to "correct" disruptive behavior; rather, they appear to be breeding it. One may...
...The introduction of "control unit" and "supermax" prisons during the early seventies has resulted in pod-based "security housing units" and prisons wherein each inmate is isolated in a separate cell for nearly the entire day.

Activists and lawyers have, for many decades, called into question the constitutionality of the severest punishments meted out by the American crime justice system. Is it acceptable to administer lethal injections? Are firing squads constitutional? Is life imprisonment the right punishment for drug-possessors, pirates and individuals caught passing rubber checks? However, one hardly gets to hear anyone raising questions against solitary confinement -- the severest and most inhumane of all punishments (Kozinski, 2016). There are about 100,000 individuals who are subject to 23 hours per day of solitude in parking space-sized cells. In a society wherein making rap videos may land one in solitary confinement for no less than 3 years, we must ask more questions regarding how an individual gets into this confinement, what their "life" becomes after being isolated, and how might they get out.

During the early 19th century, America heralded an era of imprisonment in solitary prison cells with no stimulation or access to fellow human beings, as a means of rehabilitation, which ended in disastrous results, as inmates suffered serious psychological damage (Torture: The Use of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons). Seeing its dreadful consequences, society practically abandoned the practice. However, more than a hundred years hence, it has, unfortunately, made a comeback. Rather than confining and torturing prisoners in dirty, dark underground holes, we are now confining them to sterile, well-lit boxes; similar psychological effects have been observed. Currently, several thousand individuals all over the U.S. are seen detained inside small, windowless concrete cells in nearly absolute solitude for 22 to 24 hours each day. These cells are furnished with a shower and a toilet. Each cell's door has a slit that is utilized by guards for slipping food trays in. Prisoners serving solitary confinement usually don't enjoy contact visit and telephone call rights. Their "recreation" entails being shackled/handcuffed and taken for 60 minutes to a different solitary cell in which they are allowed to pace alone, before returning to their original cell.

The earliest established laws pertaining to the death penalty date back to the 18th Century B.C. Babylon's Hammurabi had a code that codified death sentence for twenty-five crimes. This death sentence is also seen in: the Hittite Code (14th Century B.C.); Athens' Draconian Code (17th Century B.C.), in which every sort of crime was punished by death; and the Twelve Tables of Rome (5th Century B.C.). Death penalties were meted out through crucifixion, burning alive, impalement, beating the convicted individual to death, or drowning (Introduction to the Death Penalty). USA's death sentence is mostly influenced by the British. European settlers who came to America brought with them their capital punishment concept. The first documented execution in America -- that of Spanish spy, Captain George Kendall -- took place in Virginia's Jamestown colony in the year 1608. Sir Thomas Dale, governor of Virginia enacted moral, martial and divine laws in 1612. Under Dale's code, death sentence was awarded even for trivial offenses like trading with natives, stealing grapes, or killing chickens. Each colony had its own laws pertaining to the death sentence. Massachusetts Bay Colony's first execution took place in 1630, despite New England's Capital Laws not being implemented until many years later. New York Colony's Duke's Laws were implemented in 1665; under this code, death sentence was meted out even to individuals who denied the existence of the true Lord or hit one's parent(s) (Introduction to the Death Penalty).

Hazards of Solitary Confinement

It is widely agreed that solitary confinement represents a torturous punishment. This sentiment is asserted by John McCain, U.S. Senator and ex-prisoner of the Vietnam War, who states that this form of punishment is capable of weakening one's resistance and crushing one's spirit in a way no other mistreatment can. McCain's experience corroborates researchers' consensus that solitary confinement has immense adverse psychological impacts on prisoners (The Dangerous Overuse of Solitary Confinement in the United States). A psychiatrist working for the Red Cross compared physical torture and solitary confinement in a work published in 2007, and noted that solitary confinement for extended durations in prisons cell is considered the toughest torment to endure by hardened convicts accustomed to abuse and rigorous conditions. According to a Californian prison psychiatrist, it is a well-known psychiatric concept that any isolated individual will end up falling apart and losing his/her sanity.

Aside from the manifestation of a greater number of psychiatric symptoms, those who are sentenced to solitary confinement are normally associated with higher rates of suicide and self-harm. A research conducted by the American Journal of Public Health in February 2014 revealed that New York inmates sentenced to solitary confinement were almost seven times more prone to self-harm compared to general population inmates. The effect appeared to be particularly evident in youngsters and individuals suffering from serious mental ailments. In Californian prisons, 73% of suicide cases took place in isolation cells in 2004; such units constituted not even to 10% of the overall prison population of California (The Dangerous Overuse of Solitary Confinement in the United States). Suicide rates in isolation cells of Indiana's corrections department were nearly thrice that of prison units without segregation. Recognizing these hazards, Mental Health America, American Psychiatric Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Society of Correctional Physicians, American Public Health Association, and other such organizations published official policy statements in opposition to extended solitary confinement, particularly for mentally-ill prisoners.…

Sources Used in Documents:


Berke, Jeremy. "Famous U.S. Judge Admits There's a Punishment That's Just as Bad as the Death Penalty -- If Not Worse." Business Insider. N.p., 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 3 Mar. 2016. <>.

Biggs, Brooke. "Solitary Confinement: A Brief History." Mother Jones. N.p., 2 Mar. 2009. Web. 3 Mar. 2016. <>.

"Introduction to the Death Penalty." Death Penalty Information Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Mar. 2016. <>.

Keim, Brandon. "The Horrible Psychology of Solitary Confinement." Wired. N.p., 10 July 2013. Web. 2 Mar. 2016. <>.

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