Claudine Clark

Invisible Injustice: The Ailing on Death Row

A recent comprehensive study on inmates in federal prisons, state prisons, and local jails has unveiled distressing statistics concerning their healthcare conditions. Shockingly, 38.5% (SE = 2.2%) of federal inmates, 42.8% (SE = 1.1%) of state inmates, and 38.7% (SE = 0.7%) of local jail inmates were found to suffer from chronic medical conditions. Even more concerning is the revelation that among inmates with a history of mental conditions treated with psychiatric medication, only a meager percentage received continued treatment while incarcerated. A mere 25.5% (SE = 7.5%) of federal inmates, 29.6% (SE = 2.8%) of state inmates, and 38.5% (SE = 1.5%) of local jail inmates were on psychiatric medication at the time of arrest, with the numbers increasing to 69.1% (SE = 4.8%), 68.6% (SE = 1.9%), and 45.5% (SE = 1.6%) respectively after admission. These concerning findings highlight the urgent need for improvements in correctional health care and community mental health services to prevent crime and better address the healthcare needs of the incarcerated population.

In an effort to understand the implications of incarceration on health outcomes, the researchers also investigated cancer rates and survival rates among inmates. Collaborating with Connecticut’s state cancer registry and Department of Corrections, the study included over 216,000 adults diagnosed with invasive cancer between 2005 and 2016, with 239 diagnosed while in prison and 479 diagnosed within a year of release. The results were starkly different. Not only did age at diagnosis vary, but survival rates also showed significant disparities. Five-year survival for those diagnosed with cancer within a year of release was 54.6%, whereas those still incarcerated had a survival rate of 63.2%, compared to 67.2% for those who were never in prison.

Moreover, the discrepancies were even more pronounced for cancers that can be detected through routine screening. The five-year survival rate for those diagnosed in prison was 67.4%, compared to 77.6% for those diagnosed within a year of release, and a significantly higher 85.2% for others. Past research has shown that within a year of leaving prison, the risk of death increases twelve-fold, with overdose as a common cause, alongside heart disease and cancer as contributing factors. In this study, it was revealed that cancers had spread in approximately two-thirds of patients diagnosed while incarcerated and over half of those diagnosed within a year of release, even for cancers with available screening tests. These findings shed light on the alarming consequences of incarceration on the physical well-being of inmates, prompting further investigation and urgent calls for reform in the correctional healthcare system.

Pixabay – Copyright free

Within US’ death row, an insidious and profoundly inhumane reality unfolds, revealing the true extent of the healthcare crisis. As if the already deplorable state of medical care in our correctional system wasn’t enough, those condemned to death face an even bleaker fate. With a system that prioritizes low-cost solutions over human well-being, the incarcerated individuals awaiting execution find themselves subjected to a level of medical neglect that defies the most basic principles of human decency.

In these grim and isolated confines, the condemned are effectively cut off from the world, shrouded in an aura of silence and despair. Denied access to adequate medical attention, they suffer in silence, with their physical and mental ailments left untreated and often exacerbated. The disregard for their health and well-being serves as a stark reminder of how the system’s primary focus appears to be on carrying out the death sentence rather than ensuring the basic human rights and dignity of those facing it.

Behind the walls of death row, the sanctity of life is diminished to a mere existence, with little regard for the suffering and pain endured by those incarcerated. The dehumanizing nature of such conditions casts a dark shadow on the very fabric of justice, raising fundamental questions about the morality of the death penalty itself. The irony of meting out the ultimate punishment while simultaneously neglecting the most basic healthcare needs of the condemned cannot be ignored.

The reason behind the abysmally poor healthcare provided to death row inmates lies in the dehumanizing perspective of the system towards them. Seen merely as expendable and condemned individuals with no chance of redemption, they are regarded as injured racehorses that will never serve a purpose to society again, destined for the slaughterhouse. From this callous standpoint, the logic follows that there is no incentive to alleviate their suffering or even attempt to cure their ailments. In the eyes of the system, their lives hold little value, and the cost of providing adequate medical care becomes an inconvenience rather than a moral obligation. This deeply flawed rationale perpetuates a cycle of neglect and inhumanity, eroding the very essence of compassion and justice that should prevail in any civilized society.

The devaluation of life on death row not only infringes upon the fundamental principles of human rights but also raises profound ethical questions about the efficacy and morality of the death penalty itself. The disregard for the health and well-being of the condemned reflects a systemic flaw that goes beyond the act of execution. It reveals a society that prioritizes retribution over rehabilitation and punishment over compassion, leaving little room for redemption or second chances. In failing to address the healthcare needs of death row inmates, the system effectively casts them aside, condemning them to a fate of physical suffering and mental anguish.

The system must be reminded that neglecting the healthcare of death row inmates is a clear and strict violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This amendment explicitly prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual” punishment. By denying condemned individuals their basic human dignity and essential medical care, the system tramples upon the core principles of humanity and constitutional rights. As stated in the landmark case of Farmer v. Brennan (511 U.S. 825, 832, 1994) by the Supreme Court, the Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, but it does not permit inhumane ones either. The disregard for the well-being of those on death row not only constitutes cruel punishment but also undermines the very foundations of justice and respect for human life that our Constitution enshrines. It is imperative that we uphold the principles of the Eighth Amendment and ensure that all individuals, regardless of their circumstances, are treated with compassion and dignity, even within the walls of our criminal justice system.

The system must not forget that there have been cases of innocent individuals walking free from death row after spending decades behind bars. This glaring reality serves as a haunting reminder of the fallibility of our justice system and the irreversible consequences of executing an innocent person. However, above all, the system must remember that the men and women in death row are human beings deserving of humane treatment. Their punishment is meant to be separation from society, not to be subjected to torture or left to die. Regardless of their crimes, their inherent humanity cannot be stripped away, and it is the duty of the system to care for them with compassion and dignity. By embracing a more humane approach to the treatment of death row inmates, we uphold the values of justice and morality, proving that even in the face of the gravest crimes, our society can maintain its commitment to humanity and respect for life.

The problem of the healthcare system in correctional facilities mirrors the broader dysfunction within the entire prison and criminal justice system. Regrettably, many decision-makers and leaders within these organizations seem to act like obedient guard dogs, following orders without questioning the human implications of their decisions. Statistics and rigid procedures take precedence over any consideration for human rights, leaving little room for compassion, justice, or rehabilitation. The only other context in which this type of behavior can be seen is war. This reflects a judicial and correctional system at war with its own citizens. This lack of regard for human dignity and well-being perpetuates a system that prioritizes punitive measures over the potential for positive change and redemption. It is high time for a fundamental reevaluation of the priorities and values governing our correctional and criminal justice systems, with an emphasis on fostering a more humane and just approach that respects the inherent worth and rights of every individual, regardless of their circumstances. 

As we confront the harsh reality of invisible injustice within our correctional system, it is our collective responsibility to demand change and mobilize for a more compassionate and just approach. We must remember that every individual, even those on death row, possesses an inherent dignity and worth that must be respected and upheld. Our commitment to human rights, fraternity, and shared values calls us to ensure that no one is subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, regardless of their circumstances.

The Torah reminds us of our duty towards others with the passage from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This timeless commandment transcends boundaries and extends our care and compassion to all, including those who have been condemned. Let us stand together, united in our pursuit of a society that cherishes the sanctity of life, offers second chances, and embraces the possibility of redemption for all. It is time to embark on a path that truly reflects the ideals of justice and humanity, guided by the wisdom and compassion found in our hearts. 

About the Author
Claudine Clark is president/founder of the French Coalition Against the Death Penalty. An abolitionist, paralegal and human rights consultant, her passion stems from her origins as the granddaughter of Warsaw ghetto survivors. She defends human values of forgiveness and tolerance through numerous actions.
Related Topics
Related Posts