Sunday, May 25, 2008

Which is worse: Life without parole or the death penalty?

Reacting to the Juan Quintero verdict, the ADA blogger over at Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center poses the question: Which is worse? The death penalty or life without parole (LWOP)? The blogger, A Harris County Lawyer, concludes that "I don't think anyone can really make the argument that LWOP is more severe than the death penalty." I reacted thusly in the comments:
How do you know ... the afterlife isn't entirely glorious and we do every executed offender a tremendous favor by hastening their arrival? Perhaps the streets are paved with gold and all our deceased friends and family will be there to greet us on the other side. Many Christians believe some version of that to be the case, and more than a few offenders turn to Christ during their travails, just like the thief on the cross before he expired.

To repeat my earlier reasoning, everyone dies but not everyone stays locked up in a cage for decades. Death is perceived as a relatively more severe "punishment" because we don't know what comes after, so people fear the unknown. But death is also a sentence to which we're all condemned - everyone's entry card to the human condition bears an unknowable expiration date - which makes it at once as un-extraordinary as it is exceptional. That sounds contradictory, but that's because death as a punishment creates a paradox that's just not there for LWOP. With LWOP, society knows EXACTLY what punishment the offender is getting, because we're all here on earth to see it. With death, at most one can "hope" it's enough. And since vengeance cannot bring back the victim, it never is.
What do you think? Which is the harsher punishment, LWOP or the death penalty?

BLOGVERSATION: At Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield tells this related anecdote about attitudes toward prison and the death penalty in China:
I was half of a contingent meeting with a judge from Mainland China. My bookend was Larry Goldman, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and sophisticated New York bon vivant.

Eventually, discussion turned to China's execution of prisoners, enough to make a Texan blush. Bearing in mind that China (pre-quake) had far more people than it could handle, I anticipated that the judge would view life as a rather expendable commodity, and justify the imposition of the death penalty as being a fairly mundane sanction, where a billion fewer people would not be noticed.

The judge did not. Not at all. He was quite serious in explaining that he believed that death was a kinder outcome to the defendant than life in a Chinese prison without parole. In fact, he was critical of our view that putting a human being in prison for the rest of his life like a caged animal was less cruel.

The picture he painted (mind you, he was talking about Chinese prisons, not American) was of a slow, lingering death of 20 to 50 years, maybe even longer, making it sound like a means of horrible torture. Death by a thousand days, rather than swift and painless not too painful. He could not understand why we would think the suffering of life in prison was of a lesser quality than execution.
See recent related Grits posts:
ALSO RELATED: From the Houston Chronicle, "Will death become the exception, not the rule," May 26

49 comments:

Robbie C said...

I believe that the DP is infinitely more severe than LWP.

If it weren't why do the majority of DR inmates desperately seek every single chance at repealing the death sentence in favor of LWP?

You and I can speculate which is worse all day --- neither of us will ever be faced with either.

I think it's much more telling which one those on DR would prefer --- the least of the two severe: LWP.

Anonymous said...

Grits - Nice Sunday Blog!

robbie c - Inmates on Death row seek repeal of their sentence because of the indeniable human trait to work toward the continuation of life and prospects for improvement. Inmates with Life With Out Parole sentences, also seek release for the very same reason - the continuation of life and prospects for improvement.

I am opposed to the Death Penalty because of the finality of it. The only difference between the DP and LWP is that with death, society looses it's humanity. Humanity is "the continuation of life and prospects for improvement" and it is lost not only to the inmate but also to society.

The death penalty harms everyone and consequently is the worse of the two.

Christoph said...

Thanks for asking for my opinion. I think your point is completely stupid.

Wishful thinking aside, there is no evidence for any afterlife. The odds of such are extremely small. There is evidence each and every one of the major monotheistic religions at least — including Christianity — is untrue and cannot be true. They are certainly evil — and I include Christianity.

Why murder is a crime is it denies someone the sum total of all their future experiences.

Let's talk bluntly. Hell, let's talk crudely.

Most people don't pursue any type of hugely noble idea in their life. Some do and that's fab. But it's not the norm.

Most people like eating, sleeping, warmth, sex, orgasms (as distinct from the experience of sex), and the like. People spend their lives pursuing comfort and pleasure, for entirely good reasons.

In prison, all if not most of these things are available.

To call a life spent watching TV, talking with your mates, working out at the gym, and masturbating to pin-up photos "worse than death" is to be liberal to the point of farcical.

Christoph said...

"robbie c - Inmates on Death row seek repeal of their sentence because of the indeniable human trait to work toward the continuation of life and prospects for improvement."

Congratulations, Anonymous 05:25:00 PM, you have achieved farcical.

Robbie C, brilliant point — indeed, it should be the end of the discussion because it's as near to an absolute proof as exists — and one I would have made had you not done so. Instead, I wanted to point out some of the things the inmates desperately grasp as opposed to face death.

Were Grits point valid — and it is instead incredibly weak — every person with a severe disability would seek death. Most don't.

People try to live as long as they can. Most people, religious or otherwise, deep down know when they die that's it. And they want every last breath they can take.

I'm curious, Grits. Your daughter is 68 years old. She meets a criminal, for the sake of this example, and impossibly powerful one.

He imprisons her for 15 years, but treats her humanely, does not abuse her, somehow manages to let her write letters and visit have her friends and family come to visit her, gives her food, organizes celebration between her and his other prisoners from time to time, lets her have religious services with fellow believers, gives her opportunities to exercise and complete medical care, and provides a chance for her to do some very lowly paid but meaningful work before your daughter finally passes away of natural causes, while receiving palliative care.

Or, upon meeting your daughter, he kills her.

Which do you prefer — which do you think she'd prefer — and why?

Mark Bennett said...

The death penalty is worse than life in prison. It's not even a close call in my mind.

I read an article by a death penalty inmate a few years back about the horror of having someone else decide the moment of your death, then tell you when that moment would be.

While we're all going to die eventually, we naturally strive against all adversity to live. It's human nature, if not the nature of all living things.

kbp said...

Tough question, so I had to put it closer to home.

Were someone to take the life of any in my family, I'd wish LWOP and a very lonnnnng life to serve that sentence.

I could not make them think about what they did every day, but I'd feel better myself believing they are.

It would be better if THEY were stuck worrying about their own death for the rest of their life, but I can't think of a way to do that without then having the pleasure of knowing they will not be put to death at some point.

jsn said...

FWIW there are cases where the DP was changed to LWOP by the Governor or BOP. I cannot recall any cases were LWOP was changed to a DP. OTOH I recall a few cases of a suicide by a person serving an LWOP sentence.

There is book of interviews of persons serving LWOP sentences in Pennsylvania and my recollection was they did not agree on the question of DP versus LWOP.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To Robbie and Mark, if the choice is so obvious that life in prison is preferable to death, why do you get volunteers? Don't you think the analysis might perhaps be different depending on your personality, values, circumstances, etc.?

To Chistoph, you describe a VERY soft and cushy version of Texas prison life. If your description were accurate, maybe they wouldn't get volunteers. Mark, I'm curious if Christoph's description representative of how your clients describe their time in Texas prisons?

If you don't believe in the afterlife, you can still believe that a life of imprisonment and torment is worse than an immediate, final, perhaps even comparatively merciful end. I don't think it's nearly as obvious as some here have claimed which outcome is preferable, or why would prisons have high suicide rates?

Christoph said...

"high suicide rates?"

People have different opinions on the subject, Grits, and some incarcerated people prefer death to prison.

But the suicide rate of people on LWOP is less than 50%, isn't it?

The vast, vast majority of these people prefer to live.

I've some experience with jail if not prison. I'm sure prison's worse. A goal of prison is to be humane of course. Just like no part of life is without hardship, neither is prison.

After all, as convicted murderers should know as well as anyone, life on the outside can offer experiences of the most extreme horror and pain... yet most people find it worth living.

There's tough times in prison. There's also the daily pleasure of meals, watching TV, talking, reading, exercising, and some of the crude things I mentioned, which we all enjoy.

Robbie C. gave us the evidence and Mark Bennett explained the why.

If LWOP was truly worse than death, the the majority of people so sentenced would kill themselves. And they wouldn't fight to get that sentence as opposed to death.

I can see arguments against the death penalty, for example, judicial error.

But as to which is more severe, I think your point is frankly ridiculous. The vast, vast majority of people (or at least criminals who are less concerned with the nobler side of life and notions like "freedom" and are more concerned with their selfish often craven pleasures, including sadism) would prefer losing their freedom vs. death.

Consider something different, slavery. It's an awful thing, worse even, because it affects the innocent. And some people commit suicide to escape it. But most people would prefer to live as a slave than to die.

This is simply true whether you understand it or not, Grits. And while prison is just for someone who has committed the crime of murder, so is death. Whether you agree with death penalty or not, it is more severe.

Liberals like yourself just want to seem tough when you say you're sentencing people to the more severe punishment of life. It's nonsense.

Christoph said...

I think you'll find this interesting.

I found Killing as Punishment: Reflections on the Death Penalty in America online at Google Books.

It's written by Hugo Adam Bedauhas who: "commanded a long and distinguished career as one of the most widely respected opponents of capital punishment."

He makes many arguments against the death penalty, but his are based on LWOP being less severe than the death penalty.

Please consider reading section V on page 83-86. He pretty much undercuts every part of your argument including suicide.

Anonymous said...

An ex-inmate says...LWOP is worse than the death penalty. At least with DP, the victim's family hopefully receives closure, and the suffering of the inmate ends sooner rather than later. Anyone who has been in prison will tell you it ain't a picnic. Cristoph's entries are idiotic. He has no idea what it's like to be locked up, separated from everything normal and cast into a hell where there is a completely different culture than what we have here in the free world. The main idea on most sane inmate's mind is this separation and their eventual release back into a normal society. To not have that, to know that one must spend the rest of their time on this earth in that hell is, I think, a fate many times worse than the death penalty, the pain to be multiplied by the number of days the inmate spends alive past the day he would have been executed.

Christoph said...

Anonymous 09:17:00 PM, you're stupid.

Travis said...

To Christoph – I agree in principle with some, maybe much, of what you have said here.

However, I have to get this off my chest. Judging by what I have read from you today you seem utterly intolerant of some religious beliefs. That is the classic definition of a bigot. Another point; it is silly to try to discuss the ecumenical idea of life and death by concocting little fictions that begin with “What would you do if….” It is safe to say that most folks that would frown at the D.P. for rape would kill someone themselves if faced with the certain knowledge than X would violate their mother/daughter/sister/wife. It is simply an argument that proves nothing.

Christoph said...

"However, I have to get this off my chest. Judging by what I have read from you today you seem utterly intolerant of some religious beliefs. That is the classic definition of a bigot."

No, I'm not and it isn't. I oppose religious beliefs just as religious people oppose "Godlessness". In fact, they assure me I will be tortured through all of eternity because I a free man without a "Lord", specifically theirs.

I tolerate them. I don't have to agree with them. I'm going to marry one of them as it happens.

Notice the word tolerance. It means what it means.

I don't persecute religious people. I don't refuse to hire them. I don't even refuse to bed them. However, their religious texts and the God(s) described within are profoundly evil in parts and I am proud of myself for opposing that.

I tolerate religious people. My intolerance is directed toward the God Yahweh of the Old Testament who ordered rapes, genocidal murder, and child slavery; it's directed toward Jesus in the New Testament who threatens children with lifelong torture in Hell if they don't believe the outlandish claim he is the son of God with little to no evidence for the proposition, if he even existed at all; it's directed toward the God of the Torah who directs people to cut off part of babies' penises for "God" sakes, and it is directed at Allah for being a truly evil psychopath and at Mohammed for ordering entire tribes of Jews to be beheaded marrying a girl when she was 6 and having sex with her when she was 9.

It is not directed toward people who happen to believe these ridiculous evil faiths. I disdain their positions for obvious and noble reasons, but I tolerate them.

Christoph said...

*because I a free man = because I am a free man

Christoph said...

Let me put it this way, Travis: I respect your right to your belief, but I may or may not respect your belief.

Why would anyone honest "respect" that which they know is untrue?

If you are a Christian and you believe Jesus was the Son of God, born of a virgin, risen from the dead, and God himself, part of the Trinitarian Godhead, all one God... and you really believe this... why would you respect my belief that Jesus probably didn't exist at all, was definitely not God, never rose from the dead, the Gospels contradict each other and are simplistic unbelievable stories, particularly the dunce disciples tho keep on forgetting Jesus' past miracles and wondering how oh how can he solve a lesser version of the exact same problem he solved two chapters ago, and that Mary, if she existed, had sex in the normal fashion (hopefully enjoying it)?

You may respect my right to believe that and to say it, but... why would you respect my belief itself?

It makes no sense at all — rationally.

Another example. Muslims believe Mohammed was God's true messenger and a noble man who revealed God's true religion. I believe he was a mass murdering dishonest psychopathic child molester who started a worldwide anti-woman anti-freedom death cult.

Why should I respect their belief and why should they respect mine?

Travis said...

Christoph said - No, I'm not and it isn't.

Just denying it doesn’t make it so it the real world. Outside Christophville fantasyland words have static definitions. Bigot = intolerant of any opinions differing from his own. Lets review. you called differing opinions STUPID, FARCICAL, RIDICULOUS and NONSENSE just to name a few. You labeled Christianity, and by extension Christians, evil. What part of bigot/intolerant do you not understand?

Let me see if I can put it in a way you can understand.
Dude, your not as stupid as you look. If only you could stop your mental masturbation long enough to unstick the keys from Mary’s five daughters and uncross your eyes you might maybe kinda’ definitely see that everything you defecated on the page in youse last post was total bullshit contradicted by u beforehand writings.

A few good ideas but your attitude sucks.

Christoph said...

"Nonsense" was applied to the notion that the death penalty is less severe than life without parole. I am not intolerant of Grits because I disagree with him. The well known death penalty opponent I referred to used the word "absurdity". Take your pick.

I don't think this means he's intolerant to people who disagree with his reasoning or conclusions (and Grits actually agrees with his larger conclusion, I believe, just not his reasoning and some of his lesser conclusions), it just means he finds it absurd.

"Stupid" was applied to a really stupid comment. It WAS stupid. Incidentally, he called everything I wrote — a large part of which you say you agreed with — idiotic. I just challenge any reasonable person to read his comment and conclude it isn't stupid. I mean, it was. Perhaps it was impolite of me to say... but it's true. That person is really stupid and I can't help that. I didn't make them that way.

"Farcical" is my opinion on the idea that prison is worse than death, when the huge majority of inmates fight to avoid the death penalty and do not commit suicide. You're not being very tolerant of my opinion that his opinion is farcical, now are you? Or of my opinion that his conclusion is "ridiculous"?

Hey, I could be wrong, but don't you think you should show respect? I strongly, strongly believe the notion that modern prison is worse than the death penalty is ridiculous. Why can't you be more tolerant of my opinion?

This is a stupid discussion.

People disagree. They say the disagree. They sometimes use words like "ridiculous". It's my opinion, you're entitled to yours, and he's entitled to his.

THIS IS the meaning of tolerance.


The one who's doing mental masturbation is yourself.

Travis said...

To Christoph –
Once again we seem to agree on so much. A few snippets of agreement. ”This is a stupid discussion.” “People disagree.” “Everybody is entitled to their opinion.” Yahda yahda yahda.

You seem to thunk you are defending yourself in the previous post. However, taking your explanations at face value, I still say you fit the definition of a bigot.

As for you trying to turn the tables of intolerance on me. I’m trying to decide if your comments are knee jerk defensive reactions or if the nuisance of English escapes you. Perhaps English is a second language for you. Let me explain, I have not and am not denigrating your opinions just your delivery. As I continue to prove I can stoop to your level it would be hard to prove I’m intolerant of your drivel. Besides, I’m just yanking your chain. It’s been fun but I have some bad news. My attention span is not much longer than your penis so you’ll have to handle it solo once again.

sunray's wench said...

Those who talk of prison conditions as being comfortable (or imply it) I suspect have no first hand knowledge of them, or indeed have family members experiencing them. Inmates do not live in vaccuums, and while it is true that after the first 5 years of a sentence many are left with no outside support, that's not the case for all inmates.
The DP may bring closure to the victims family, but it also creates a whole new set of victims ~ the inmate's family and friends ~ who seem to share the condemned's stigma in your society of people who call themselves Christian. LWOP at least stops the cycle. It shows that the act of killing is wrong, no matter how you dress it up, and that the state is above the level of the inmate by not perpetuating it. LWOP means the inmates' family does not suffer in the way the victim's family does. How can increased suffering be a good thing for those who have committed no crime?
For some, the prospect of LWOP is tollerable, because they become institutionalised and can deal with it. For others, the prospect of death is preferable, for many reasons but guilt is one and the absense of life as we understand it to mean is another. Few people actively want to die, but for those that do, the most farcicle thing is for the state to battle to keep them alive or to ignore their request, in order to be able to kill them at a later date.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Christoph, according to the book link you gave, 12% of those executed in the US since 1982 were "volunteers," a higher figure than I suspected. IMO that bolsters instead of discredits the idea that a rational person may consider LWOP "worse" than a death sentence.

Why would they make that choice if what you say is so obviously, incontrovertibly true?

I don't think the ratio has to be 50% to make the point. Fact is, others who've faced the precise choice sometimes made different ones from what you'd consider "obvious," and for reasons that are entirely rational believed that life in prison the harsher option. It wasn't so obvious to them.

Christoph said...

"Why would they make that choice if what you say is so obviously, incontrovertibly true?"

I think a certain percentage of the volunteers feel genuine remorse for their actions and realize the justness of the death sentence.

Of course, using my same argument&dagger, it could be that 88% of those convicted to death feel so badly about what they've done they volunteer for life imprisonment and refrain from suicide due to their heartfelt belief they deserve a tough penalty and shouldn't take the easy way out. Undoubtedly, in self-flagellation, these noble inmates refuse desert.

But I, like the author of that book who is a death penalty opponent, find that unconvincing.

&dagger I'm being a bit facetious. I think the proof in the pudding is the numbers which show most convicts feel that life in prison is better than death and common sense which would be that convicted murderers are at least as selfish as the general public and would tend to want the least severe penalty (in most cases).

Some people obviously do feel the same way you d,o Grits, but you're a minority, at least when drawing from the convict pop (and that's the point, isn't it?). So in the majority of cases, LWOP is less severe than death.

However, if you have a principled objection to the death penalty for the opposite reason than Bedauhas, to wit, you believe it isn't severe enough, then do you believe LWOP should be as austere and difficult as possible, just to be on the safe side?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The question is a moral one, Chrisoph. You cannot answer how many angels dance on the head of a pin by majority rule.

Our society is incredibly narcissistic, and the fact that most people choose a known (life) that panders to their narcissism over an unknown that they (perhaps irrationally) fear does not mean that their assessment of which is "worse" is accurate.

Anonymous said...

Worse than either LWOP or the DP would be having Grits as an elected official.

What a surprise to find that Dana and Grits were friends in college. Bet that was a small social group, eh?

Anonymous said...

As a society, we have got to do something to get the suicide rate on LWOP raised to at least 75%.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I bet your lawyer father reads this tripe and shakes his head in shame.

Christoph said...

"The question is a moral one, Chrisoph. You cannot answer how many angels dance on the head of a pin by majority rule."

Yes, quite. So buy Bedauhas's book. He approaches the death penalty from a moral perspective and, using reasoning I can't fault in the main, argues against it.

The reason he reaches a different conclusion than me is because he has a different set of values than I do. He basically believes all life has great value, even people who've done terrible things. I believe the innocent have a far greater value than the guilty and guilty forfeit much of their value, in some cases, all of their moral value when they commit horrendous crimes.

It's this forfeiture of their value which makes punishment just, including the death penalty, or the far, far worse punishment of life with TV, internet, books, steady food, and worldwide penpal opportunities.

I'm not sure what your moral point is. I understand Bedauhas's point as he believes punishment for the sake of punishment is gratuitous whereas I believe it's just and virtuous: at least we're agreeing largely on facts and reason and arguing the actual morality.

You believe, don't you, that LWOP is a more severe punishment than death? Then surely if you actually believe that, then, logically, you believe death is a less severe punishment than LWOP.

a > b → b < a

So, if I buy your contention, can we use LWOP for the really SERIOUS murders and, to show our mercy, use death where the murder is less serious, their were mitigating factors, and/or genuine remorse?

Because if not, I'm going to say you're not being intellectually consistent nor intellectually honest (with yourself).

Your views are actually closer to Bedauhas's, but instead of using his rational arguments and the conclusions that flow from them, you're using the ridiculous position of LWOP being more severe than death, which it isn't.

If it were, you would have no problem with having it in the sentencing continuum, at least in theory.

Yes, there are valid arguments against it, like wrongful convictions. I wish you'd use those and not the ones which make no sense, but are used by modern liberals who devalue language and make it mean what it doesn't mean.

Death is more severe than life. I'd think that is axiomatic.

"Our society is incredibly narcissistic, and the fact that most people choose a known (life) that panders to their narcissism over an unknown that they (perhaps irrationally) fear does not mean that their assessment of which is 'worse' is accurate."

So... basically... your strategy is to punish convicted murderers with the more "severe" sentence of LWOP by indulging their narcissism and their false belief that death is worse?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Christoph, your position is summed up with this statement: "Death is more severe than life. I'd think that is axiomatic"

In other words, it's true because it's true. That's not an axiom, it's a tautology. Here are some stats on rates of belief in the afterlife. By your majority rules on moral questions argument, you are wrong. (Of course it's your "majority" argument that's wrong; no one can now whether there's an afterlife, even you.)

Also, I didn't stake out a position or a "strategy," I posed a question and asked people for their reasoning. And you gave me your answer: It's true because it's true, and people who disagree with you are wrong.

And to the troll (3 posts in 5 minutes?) who thinks he knows my father's mind, my Dad believes in the afterlife, as do most Americans his age. I'm willing to bet he wouldn't find the premise of the question nearly as off the charts as somebody like you or Christoph who appear to have nothing but disdain for religious people.

lawschoolinmate said...

Grits, I thought your post was really interesting. I remember being struck by an inmate's comment in the NY Times article on the "wave" of execution dates following the SC's ruling on lethal injections (I blogged about on the article and I think you did too): he said that LWOP was torture and far worse than the DP.

I think it's impossible to decide the question based on the inmate because it's going to depend on each inmate's circumstances. For one inmate, he may know that his case has some good facts and there is a chance that he could have his case retried and maybe even get out. For another, the facts are terrible and he may have nothing to look forward to even if he did get out, so he'd rather just get life over with.

I think the question, rather than which is worse, is what do we as a society believe to be right. Do we ultimately believe that the government should have the power to kill its citizens?

In any case, sooner or later the Sup Ct will decide it for us as the number of states outlawing the DP reaches a critical mass. Sorry, Texas, I think your days of the DP are numbered.

Christoph said...

"In other words, it's true because it's true."

Nonsense, Grits. Robbie C. explained much of the evidence for it and Bedauhas took that in more detail and added other points. You know darn well I and others have made many of these points. Mark Bennet explained the why of it.

I don't have a majority rules on moral position argument (although it tends to when the law is set). I agreed with you when you challenged that idea. I have no idea where you're getting from.

We're talking about SEVERITY of punishment. If most people convicted of a crime prefer punishment x over punishment y, then it seems logical to presume that punishment y is more severe, at least from their perception point of view. And that's valuable data. Bedauhas gives other reasons aside from this important one.

Further, I don't have disdain for religious people. I love very many religious people (and dislike many atheists). I have disdain for religion. There is a difference.

To me, it's like a superstition. Most people have had at least some superstitions, yours truly included. I think superstitions are dumb, but don't dislike everyone who has one. Also, many people are religious and I think they're reasoning here is highly flawed, assuming they've actually read all of their religious scriptures, which most haven't.

Yet, they can be highly intelligent generals, doctors, lawyers, accountants, moms, coaches, or what have you. I've made this point before on these threads. If you missed it, there it is. Again.

Christoph said...

Put simpler, my criticism is of God (ordering rapes, mass murder, and child slavery), Jesus (threatening lifelong torture if I don't believe in Him and I haven't even had the benefit of seeing an actual bona fide miracle, just unlikely hearsay), and for that matter the Holy Spirit (killing all innocent first born male children because of what their dictator allegedly wouldn't do) as depicted in the Bible, not of Mrs. Clarkson at church.

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered about this myself. As someone who has worked in several prisons I tend to think LWP is worse. Prisons are awful places mainly because of the other prisoners and the culture they make.

If this is so, then couldn't an argument be made that the DP is more humane than LWP? And therefore, the DP abolitionists very cruel persons indeed?

jsn said...

The book I referenced above is
"Doing Life" by Howard Zehr

I think it is an important book because some of the prisoners he interviewed were able to do things in prison that were beneficial to society in general. They did in fact rehabilitate themselves.

The cruel part was even though they were rehabilitated there was little chance of their sentence being commuted because of the political costs to the governor.

Zehr photographed the lifers in civilian clothing instead of prison garb (a huge difference). It would be interesting to see how the voters would react if the presidential candidates wore orange jumpsuits.

Anonymous said...

It is the people who run the prisons that make them what they are.

The inmates don't have much choice, the Guards, Wardens, State Legislators are the ones that make prisons horrible places.

I agree, the culture in prison is terrible, and very little of the blame for that falls upon the inmates. Remember S%^& rolls down hill.

I still maintain the DP is harsher because it is a choice that cannot be ammended.

Anonymous said...

Christoph, how much do I need to pay you for a good insult?

sunray's wench said...

Christoph wrote: "I believe the innocent have a far greater value than the guilty and guilty forfeit much of their value, in some cases, all of their moral value when they commit horrendous crimes.

It's this forfeiture of their value which makes punishment just, including the death penalty, or the far, far worse punishment of life with TV, internet, books, steady food, and worldwide penpal opportunities."

You seem to be under the impression that all murderers are on DR; they are not. You also seem to be ignoring the fact that the families of inmates are innocent, yet you still wish to put them through the distress of losing a loved one at the hands of the state. Its all very well being philosophical about these things, but it would help your argument a little to do some empirical research instead of relying on one man's book.

As to your second paragraph, tell me which inmates in Texas have access to the internet? Are you one of those misguided people who believe TX inmates have a TV in their cells and get 3 good meals a day? And exactly what is wrong with having penpals around the world?

Christoph said...

Sunray's Wrench:

"You seem to be under the impression that all murderers are on DR; they are not."

No, I'm not. I wonder why you missed the term "in some cases" after I not only made an effort to set it aside on its own between commas, but you actually quoted it.

"You also seem to be ignoring the fact that the families of inmates are innocent, yet you still wish to put them through the distress of losing a loved one at the hands of the state."

The families suffer as a result of the logical and legal consequences of the criminal's own actions, not because of any wrongful action of the people in seeking justice for a crime.

"...it would help your argument a little to do some empirical research instead of relying on one man's book."

I formed the reasoning on my own. Then I googled:

which is more severe death or lwop

... and lo and behold google not only brought me to that book, it also jumped me to the exact right page of that book. I cited it to be helpful to Grits because not only did it have statistical facts relevant to his views, it also presented a far more logical case against the death penalty than the one he's making here.

According to his reasoning, if I'm to take it seriously, he's being more severe than I am and I'm being merciful. There are valid arguments against the death penalty, as I've noted, but not the one he makes. You would agree with that book which was written by a death penalty opponent. Your reasoning is actually closer to his reasoning than Grits'.

"As to your second paragraph, tell me which inmates in Texas have access to the internet? Are you one of those misguided people who believe TX inmates have a TV in their cells and get 3 good meals a day? And exactly what is wrong with having penpals around the world?"

Thank you for making a good point, which I bolded. You're right about internet access, although I've since learned that some Texas death row inmates have MySpace pages for them by their friends and family and then people write letters to them.

To the best of my knowledge, Texas inmates receive three meals a day, or should. Do you have any proof they don't receive adequate food? If so, address that problem.

They have books. Books are better than TV. I don't know how much TV access they have. Nor do I care, except to say that I believe TV for inmates should be quite limited.

And no, there's nothing wrong with having penpals. I have several. It's a genuine pleasure and a good growth experience.

It also is not worse than death. That's my point.

Question for you: Which is more severe. The DP or LWOP?

Follow-up question: Should we be more severe with prisoners or less?

Follow-up question: If LWOP is more severe, then would the DP be more humane? Obviously you don't believe this.

If the DP is more severe, then you disagree with Grits, don't you, and you oppose the DP for different reasons, the reasons I cited in that book among others... correct?

sunray's wench said...

Sorry, I cant do the fancy bold and italics on my machine, but I'll try and make it clear which are my words and which are yours.

Christoph wrote: " You're right about internet access, although I've since learned that some Texas death row inmates have MySpace pages for them by their friends and family and then people write letters to them.

To the best of my knowledge, Texas inmates receive three meals a day, or should. Do you have any proof they don't receive adequate food? If so, address that problem."

My reply: Inmates in TDCJ have NO access first hand to the internet, and few have any access to any computers at all. I could make a web site all about my favourite opera singer, but that wouldnt mean they had any control over it, or even have to have any imput.

While on lockdown (which can range from a couple of hours to indefinite weeks) inmates are not always given 'adequate' meals, unless you think a cold fried egg and a refried beans burrito 3 times a day constitutes 'adequate'. I dont feel they should have a full 4 course meal with coffee and mints every day, but the food on offer often does not meet government guidelines on salt, fat, sugar or fruit & veg intake. Poor diets create poor health and sickly inmates who you will end up paying more for through your taxes.

Christoph wrote: "They have books. Books are better than TV. I don't know how much TV access they have. Nor do I care, except to say that I believe TV for inmates should be quite limited.

And no, there's nothing wrong with having penpals. I have several. It's a genuine pleasure and a good growth experience."

My reply: You dont know how much TV access they have. I suspect you dont know much about the inner workings of any TDCJ unit. Most, but not all, TDCJ inmates have access to a TV during daytime hours, but usually it is 2 TVs on at the same time showing 2 different things at the whim of the guards. They do not have TV in their cells or dorms (did you know they dont all live in cells?).

If there is nothing wrong with having penpals, why lump it in with things you seem to think inmates shouldn't have?

Christoph wrote: "It also is not worse than death. That's my point.

Question for you: Which is more severe. The DP or LWOP?"

My reply: The point I think Grits made in his original blog post is, NO ONE can know for sure what is or isnt worse than death, because no one has come back to tell the tale (unless you believe in spiritualism etc). We can only guess what it might be like, if indeed there is anything at all. So the imposition of the DP or LWOP is only based on a few people's subjective views and nothing more substantial.

Christoph wrote: "Follow-up question: Should we be more severe with prisoners or less?

Follow-up question: If LWOP is more severe, then would the DP be more humane? Obviously you don't believe this."

My reply: If being severe with inmates worked, you wouldnt have growing numbers. Even the threat of death doesnt really deter anyone from committing crimes, so I dont see how it can be a reason to justify worse conditions for inmates. There is little left to take away from inmates and their families, so if you go the whole hog and take away things like visitation, the ability to correspond with the outside world, medical care, education, and the very basic rehab programs that currently exist, and inmates still misbehave, what are you going to do next? Kill them all?

As I said in my first post, for some inmates LWOP is a worse situation to contemplate than the DP. For others, death by the state is a worse option. One size does not fit all, no matter how hard we might like it to.

Christoph wrote: "If the DP is more severe, then you disagree with Grits, don't you, and you oppose the DP for different reasons, the reasons I cited in that book among others... correct?"

You may be surprised to learn that I do not opose the death penalty as a resource. However, I do not agree with the way many US states use it, I do not agree with keeping people on DR for 30+ years in the conditions they are kept in. I do not agree with the state purposefully keeping a terminally ill inmate alive solely for the chance to kill them later on the state's terms. For a country who states very vocally that God is the one who determines life or death, America seems to be full of little Gods.

Anyone can use Google. Anyone can regurgitate what they find there. Weren't you ever warned not to believe everything you read? Opinions are better formed by wide range reading and experience.

Christoph wrote: "The families suffer as a result of the logical and legal consequences of the criminal's own actions, not because of any wrongful action of the people in seeking justice for a crime."
I hope you never become an inmate family member. It may surprise you to learn that many inmate families are upstanding members of the community, you probably rub shoulders with some when you go to church or the mall. But you probably dont know it because most know the response they will get if they tell someone. I guess if you think it's ok to punish innocent people and make them feel like criminals too, just for deciding to stand by their family member who is incarcerated, then we're not going to get much further. If that's not how you feel, then please enlighten me.

Oh, and it's wench, not wrench.

Stephen said...

I think it depends, but there is a reason some people have chosen death and a reason some have not when they had the option to allow themselves to be executed or to fight for a probably successful delay.

dudleysharp said...

Clearly, death is more severe.

What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
 
What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
 
What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.
 
This is not, even remotely, in dispute.
 
Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
 

Christoph said...

"Oh, and it's wench, not wrench."

Mmmmmm... wenches.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Dudley, I did not dispute death is "feared" more. But is it worse? How do you know?

Death is feared because it's unknown, not because it's demonstrably "worse" than the existence we know now. A lot of Christians believe it may be better.

dudleysharp said...

If your question really meant "which is worse", you would have had no respondents unless you were seaking responses from zombies.

I presumed you wanted opinons from those not yet deceased.

The fact is unassailable that death is feared more than life.

It is feared more because it is perceived as worse, at least by the subject group those really counts - murderers facing the death penalty.

Remember, about 70% of those who are actually sentenced to death already know what jail is like and they prefer a lifetime of jail over death.

We know that capital murderers are saying we fear death more than life. They fear it because they believe it is wors. That is clear.

I suggest you may want to challenge everyone that responds to your question, unless they are experienced zombies who also have experience with prison, as that is the only group you may except an experienced answer from.

Regarding Christians, they believe that the afterlife may be much better or much worse, as you know.

The fear of that unknown likely scares many a death row inmate, thus the ubiquitous death row conversions.

Mark Bennett said...

Which is more severe? It's an intensely personal question.

I think that in a crunch most westerners would probably behave as though death were worse than LWOP.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason why living in DR in Texas is more severe is that, in the one male unit that has it, DR life is made to be very severe and confining. Male lifers can be at many units and may have different arrangements.

But lifers stay in for life while DR people are eventually killed.

dudleysharp said...

It is clear that those subject to the death penalty fear execution more than LWOP.

Which is worse depends on the afterlife, I suspect.

For those subject to the death penalty, the fear of the unknown, death, is worse than that which they already know, which is life and for about 70% of those who are sentenced to death, they already know what incarceration was like.

A brief review, in the context of fear and deterrence.

Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it's a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.

Reality paints a very different picture.

Let's look at those who actually face the death penalty and see what they choose.

What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.

This is not, even remotely, in dispute.

What of that more rational group, the potential murderers who choose not to murder, is it likely that they, like most of us, fear death more than life?

Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

Mark Bennett said...

While Dudley's statistics are accurate, they don't show the entire picture.

The decisions made in capital cases reflect the philosophy of the capital defense lawyers as well as of the capital defendants. In a typical capital case, the lawyer spends some time trying to convince the client that it's not better to just let the government kill him.

If capital defense lawyers didn't strongly believe that LWOP was better than death, you can rest assured that there would be many more "volunteers" for death.

dudleysharp said...

Mark:

I have spoken to several defense attorneys about the death penalty.

I think many of them look at it like they do all cases, in that they will, nearly always, seek out the lesser sanction, as either

1) an obligation to their client and/or

2)that they find the lesser sanction more appropriate.

Do you know of any case where the defense counsel and their client both felt that the death penalty was the most appropriate sanction and there was a plea of guilty, the death penalty was requested in the punishment phase and, if sentenced to death, the inmate waived appeals?

Mark Bennett said...

Dudley, as a general principle the client gets to choose the goals of the representation. So if a competent client is set on volunteering for death, and the lawyer can't sway him, the lawyer has a duty to seek death for him or withdraw from the case. I'm no death penalty historian, but I believe there have been several cases with true volunteers.

But the low number of volunteers doesn't reflect the choices defendants would make on their own.