Losing Sight of What Prison Is All About

Arizona Department of Corrections recently announced changes to the rules governing death row inmate privileges. Proponents claim this is a step forward in reforming these inmates and increasing their quality of life. I would argue that supporters have lost sight of why we have prisons, to begin with.

Until recently Arizona death row inmates lived a solitary life- spending the majority of their day in windowless cells with limited contact with other inmates and without privileges such as access to phones or exercise equipment. Yes, it was a dreary and depressing way to spend your last years but it was also the price you paid for committing the most heinous of crimes – those which get you sentenced to death.

But all that has changed. The new rules have removed almost all sanctions and death row inmates now enjoy access to nearly all the privileges available to any other inmate. They may now roam the cell lock during no sleeping hours, including access to the exercise yard and telephones. Communication and socializing with other inmates are encouraged and the prison even provides team sports activities and board games. Death row inmates may also apply for work positions throughout the prison, something previously limited to only the most trusted inmates.

Proponents claim this is better for the inmates, that it will improve their mental well-being and reduce stress. They also claim it is better for the staff as the inmates will be less violent and easier to manage. This may be true, at least in the short term, but it also means that one of the major deterrents has been removed from prison life. Death row is no longer any worse than the general population.

So what does this mean? It means that someone who had previously been held in check by their desire to avoid the solitary, miserable life death row offered now has nothing to lose. If you are facing years in prison anyway or a repeat offender accustom to the revolving door of repeated prison terms, why not go for it and finally commit a top-level crime? After all death row is no longer so bad.

Prison is not supposed to be nice. There are those who would argue prison is too harsh, but they don’t seem to have a problem with the high number of convicts who get out and immediately return to their old habits because they have no fear of returning. Prison does not need to be brutal, but it should not offer more opportunities or niceties than the average inmate would enjoy on the outside either.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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2 thoughts on “Losing Sight of What Prison Is All About

  1. While I usually agree with your opinions, I am not so sure that making prison conditions harsher would reduce crime or recidivism. For one, isn’t the loss of the freedoms we mostly take for granted enough deterrent to keep the overwhelming majority of the populace on the right side of the law?

    Also, does giving better accommodations to death row inmates pose a danger to the law-abiding public? Those men on death row are already condemned to be executed by the state; they know that they are living on borrowed time at best. Would making their last years on earth even worse serve any purpose, other than that of vengeance?

    I do concur, however, that it is definitely a bad idea to allow death row inmates to mix with the general population–the prisoners on death row are there for heinous offenses, whilst those in gen pop may be incarcerated for non-violent crimes such as drug possession, grand larceny, etc. The latter group are likely to be released in the future, and it would not be good for them to be under the tutelage of hardened, potentially unrepetant murderers from whom they can only learn worse criminal habits.

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