Late yesterday, the Connecticut Assembly passed legislation to bring an end to the state’s future use of the death penalty. The governor has promised to sign the legislation, making Connecticut the 17th state to repeal capital punishment.
This is, of course, a significant victory for death penalty opponents. But the legislation has two troubling components. The first is the fact that it will not apply to the 11 men currently on death row. The second is an amendment added last week to the legislation in the Connecticut Senate, where it faced a steeper hurdle. As reported by the Connecticut website The Day:
The House bill is nearly identical to the Senate bill passed last week. It creates new imprisonment standards for future Class A felony murderers convicted of “murder with special circumstances,” what is currently known as a capital offense.
Under the bill, those convicted must be housed separately from other inmates, subjected to twice-weekly cell searches and must change their cells every three months. They would get no more than two hours a day outside their cells and would be allowed only “non-contact” visitation privileges.
The amendment–which can be read in full here–is meant to ensure that prisoners who might previously have received the death penalty will serve life without parole in 22-hour-a-day solitary confinement, in conditions that mimic death row. In pledging to sign the bill, Governor Dannel Malloy stated: “Going forward, we will have a system that allows us to put these people away for life, in living conditions none of us would want to experience…Let’s throw away the key and have them spend the rest of their natural lives in jail.”
Even for steadfast opponents of long-term solitary confinement, it would be difficult to argue that this is not the lesser of two evils. But it is an evil nonetheless, in that it replaces death penalty with a lifetime in conditions that are widely considered to constitute torture. It also risks spreading the use of life in solitary confinement beyond what would originally have been capital cases–which is effectively what happened with life without parole.