The recent execution of Troy Davis has highlighted the contentiousness of the death penalty in the United States. Calling it to light again was the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
The World Coalition
The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, registered in France, is an alliance of abolitionist organizations committed to strengthening the international dimension of the fight against the death penalty, with the ultimate objective of the universal abolition of the death penalty. It was founded in Rome on 13 May 2002 by the signatories of the Final Declaration of the 1st World Congress Against the Death Penalty, which was held in Strasbourg in 22 June 2001. Paragraph 9 of the Declaration states that signatories pledge to “create a world-wide co-ordination of abolitionist associations and campaigners, whose first goal will be to launch a world-wide day for the universal abolition of the death penalty.” The World Coalition made 10 October the World Day Against the Death Penalty, celebrating it for the first time in 2003.
CCR: The United States Tortures Before it Kills: An Examination of the Death Row Experience From a Human Rights Perspective
In honor of The World Day Against the Death Penalty, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has released a position paper contending that the course of conduct employed by the United States, from sentence, to just before execution, constitutes torture. The paper focuses on what has been termed the “death row phenomenon,” which can be broken down into three elements: (1) a temporal component, based on the length of time between sentencing and execution; (2) a physical component based on the punishing conditions in which the condemned prisoner is held; and (3) an experiential component, based on the meaning of living under the sentence of death. Because thousands of prisoners on death row in the United States can face decades in isolation and are haunted by the approach of their execution, they suffer significant psychological harm, including severe mental pain and suffering. “The international consensus is clear that such suffering amounts to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; but a growing consensus also defines this phenomenon, appropriately, as torture.”
You can find the position paper here.
While I agree that living on death row for nearly a decade or more waiting for that dreaded date on the calendar to come by is analogous to torture, I find hard to believe that spending life in prison without the possibility of parole not torturous as well. Instead of spending decades of isolation, they spend decades with the general population and are subject to large numbers of abuse ranging from beatings to rape. Indeed, the prisons today are riddled with problems such as severe overcrowding, disgusting conditions, lack of efficient employees, and lack of other resources. Considering all this, I think it is unfair to say that death rows are any more torturous then life without possibility of parole in prison. Granted, many will say that at least the people in the second group will not die on a set date and such do not agonize over this; but how this any different then living out one’s life for years on end in an understaffed and overcrowded pigsty designed to degrade and humiliate its occupants.