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Lethal Injection and Supermax

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Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy has this post on the continuing lethal injection controversy. Although we see this issue from very different perspectives, there are two points of agreement: (1) the lethal injection issue is getting attention way out of proportion to its actual importance; and (2) the people who claim that the issue is generating a wholesale reexamination of capital punishment are full of hot air. Doug also has a post decrying the extremely restrictive conditions at "supermax" prisons.

On the other hand, as AP reports here, conditions at Maryland's maximum security facility were not so restrictive that inmates Lee Stephens and Lamarr Harris were not able to arm themselves with knives and stab to death corrections officer David McGuinn, if the charges against them are true. Nor are prison conditions generally so restrictive that the Aryan Brotherhood cannot conduct a drug-dealing racket, enforced by murder of those who cross it, from behind bars. The LA Times story is here.

Doug's appeals to human dignity do have some merit, and it is indeed regrettable that supermax prisons are necessary. Yet we must never forget that we are dealing with extremely dangerous people here.

One reform that might reduce the need for supermax prisons would be a credible, genuinely enforced death penalty for killings by prisoners. A life sentence (or a death sentence with appeals so protracted it is a de facto life sentence) is not much of a deterrent for a person already sentenced to life in prison.

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You refer to SuperMax prisons as "necessary." The first SuperMax opened in 1994. What positive effects have SuperMax prisons had since then that show them to be necessary - that is, which bad things have stopped happening since the invention of the SuperMax? As you can probably tell, I don't think they're necessary, but I'd be interested to know why someone might think otherwise.

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