Pope Francis Denounces Solitary Confinement, Calls for Prison Conditions That “Respect Human Dignity”

Pope Francis washes the feet of youth in a juvenile detention center in March 2013.

In a wide-ranging speech on Thursday, Pope Francis revealed himself as a passionate criminal justice reformer. His words also suggest that he is familiar with the controversies surrounding solitary confinement and supermax prisons, and strongly opposes their use. Speaking at the Vatican to representatives of the International Association of Penal Law, the Pope said: “All Christians and people […]

Voices from Solitary: “Death Row Diary” of Florida Man Scheduled to Die Tonight

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William Van Poyck, 58 years old and on death row at the Florida State Prison in Starke, is scheduled to die at the hands of the state tonight at 7 pm. In 1987 he was convicted of murdering prison guard Fred Griffis in a failed jailbreak attempt. Poyck has spent nearly 26 years on death row […]

Connecticut Votes to Replace the Death Penalty with Life in Solitary Confinement

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 […]

Voices from Solitary: Hank Skinner’s Dispatches from Texas Death Row

Today, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution to Hank Skinner, to allow for the testing of DNA evidence which Skinner says could cast doubt on his guilt. Skinner was scheduled to be executed two days from now, on November 9. In March of last year, Skinner came within a half-hour of execution before […]

Texas Prepares to Execute Hank Skinner Without Testing DNA

Update: On Monday afternoon, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Skinner’s execution to review how changes in the state law on DNA testing requests affect cases like Skinner’s. Our piece on Hank Skinner, who is scheduled to be executed in Texas this Wednesday, appears today over at Mother Jones. “Any time DNA evidence can […]

Easter As a Story of Criminal Injustice

We missed this post yesterday, but it’s too good to pass up so we’re sharing it a day late. This is from Scott Henson’s Grits for Breakfast, which provides the blogosphere’s best coverage of the Texas criminal justice system.  Easter is strikingly filled with criminal justice themes, isn’t it? The Christian religion was essentially founded on a repudiation […]

Voices from Solitary: Lane Nelson on Angola’s Death Row

While serving time at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Lane Nelson spent 18 years as a staff writer and later managing editor for the nation’s most renowned prison magazine, The Angolite. He covered a wide range of subjects, including Angola’s longtermer population and hepatitis-C behind bars, and he interviewed and profiled several men just days before their executions. Nelson himself […]

Death Row Inmates Sue the FDA Over Execution Drugs

“In keeping with established practice, FDA does not review or approve products for the purpose of lethal injection. FDA has not reviewed the products in this shipment to determine their identity, safety, effectiveness, purity, or any other characteristics.” This is the statement now imprinted on shipments of lethal injection drugs that are brought into the country from foreign sources. Now, a […]

Santa Was in Prison and Jesus Got the Death Penalty

As Christmas is celebrated in Incarceration Nation, it’s worth remembering certain things about the two figures who dominate this holiday. As more than 3,000 Americans sit on death row, we revere the birth of a godly man who was arrested, “tried,” sentenced, and put to death by the state. The Passion is the story of an […]

Live from Death Row: 3,600 Americans Waiting Alone to Die

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Most residents of the nation’s death rows live in long-term solitary confinement, in what are effectively supermax units for the condemned. They are subject to all of the devastating psychological and physical effects of prolonged isolation, with the added torment of knowing that someday they will more than likely be put to death at the hands of the state. According to […]