Human Rights Groups Urge UN to Call for Abolition of “Death by Incarceration”

A number of human rights organizations submitted a 31-page complaint to United Nations experts todayThe group claims that the United States is torturing people and violating the prohibition against racism by incarcerating them in extreme sentences, including life without parole (LWOP), and condemning them to death. The Center for Constitutional Rights (the Drop LWOP Coalition) and the Abolitionist Law Center (the Abolitionist Law Center) are asking the UN for an end to all death by imprisonment sentences.

“Death by incarceration is the devastating consequence of a cruel and racially discriminatory criminal legal system that is designed not to address harm, violence, and its root causes, but to satisfy the political pressure to be tough on crime,” the complaint states.

The United States, a global outlier in its imposition of death by incarceration, condemns one out of every seven prisoners — or more than 200,000 people — to die in prison. Over two-thirdsPeople of color are also known as. This constitutes torture and racial discrimination according to international law.

Extensive testimonials from people who are incarcerated or recently releasedAttached to the complaint are documents from extreme sentences in prison. “At the time of my arrest in 1995, I had no idea this country was at the height of a highly politicized and racist tough-on-crime movement that was swallowing up poor people of color by the thousands and decimating entire communities,” wrote Felix Rosado, who served 27 years of his LWOP sentence before Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf received lifetime parole in July after he was sentenced to a commuted sentence.

“Death by incarceration is a statement of condemnation against even the possibility that one can transcend their worst moment and be worthy of life outside a cage. It’s a complete negation of one’s inherent right to redemption,” Rosado told Truthout Send an email. “As a hospice volunteer on the inside, I witnessed too many men take the last breaths of their death by incarceration sentences. I can think of few acts more barbaric than forcing a human being to die a slow, agonizing death in a cage.”

Sheena King is currently serving a sentence for LWOP for a conviction she made when she was 18. Sheena King has been held at SCI Muncy since 1992. “These sentences of death by incarceration are disproportionately handed down to people of color, of limited education, with fewer resources and they have failed to make communities safer. Death by incarceration sentences have not reduced crime so they serve no real purpose and they create prison environments of hopelessness which is a danger in and of itself,” King wrote in an email to Truthout. “Without death by incarceration sentences, parole consideration would be a possibility for the corrigible. The recidivism rate of those who were paroled from death by incarceration sentences is lower than any other group of offenders.”

“Death by incarceration sentences, including life without parole, are inhumane and highlight the ineffectiveness of the United States’ criminal punishment system,” Samah Sisay, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Truthout. “The U.S. should abolish death by incarceration sentences and ensure that the disproportionately Black and aging individuals serving these sentences are afforded the right to dignity, hope and redemption.”

Black and Latinx people are disproportionately sentenced to death by incarceration nationwide, the complaint notes, finding “significant racial disparities” in rates of release and parole. It also cites “considerable racial disparities” at the charging and trial stages, which in turn impact sentencing.

The complaint references the Committee Against Torture’s repeated recommendations that states abolish irreducible life sentences, including LWOP. The United States ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Committee Against Torture administers it. When the U.S. ratifies a treaty, its mandates become part of domestic law under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

The UN special reporteur on torture and the Committee Against Torture have both recommended the abolition LWOP for minors. The United States is the only country to allow youth to be sentenced for life without parole. In April 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court, which is right-leaning, made it easier to sentence children to LWOP. Justice Sonia Sotomayor observed in her dissent to Jones v. Mississippi70% of youth sentenced to LWOP are children of color.

Systemic Racism Permeates Criminal Legal System

After George Floyd’s public torture and execution by Minneapolis police officers, the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police violence Against People of African Descent (for which I was a rapporteur), issued a 188-page report. It documentedRacial profiling at all stages of the criminal legal process leads to violence against Black people in America.

The commission discovered that pretextual traffic stop are a common precursor of police killings or excessive force against African-Americans. Race-based street stops, also called “stop-and-frisk,” often trigger the use of deadly force by police against Black people. The Fourth Amendment violations led to excessive force and police murders of Black people, according the commission. Police routinely use lethal and excessive restraints against people who are of African descent. They include chokeholds and compression asphyxia, rough riding, and the use vehicles as deadly weapons.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination met on August 30. documentedThe United States, which is a signatory to the treaty, has committed several violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination mentioned racial profiling in law enforcement and the lack of legislation prohibiting the practice.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was “concerned at the brutality and use of excessive or deadly force by law enforcement officials against members of racial and ethnic minorities, including against unarmed individuals, which has a disparate impact on people of African descent, Indigenous Peoples, persons of Hispanic/Latino origin and Asian descent, and undocumented migrants.”

Moreover, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concluded that racial and ethnic minorities are “overrepresented in the criminal justice system.” The Committee cited their disproportionate arrest, incarceration, solitary confinement and harsher sentences including life without parole and the death penalty.

Torture and cruel treatment in U.S. Jails & Prisons

People of color in the United States are subject to the death penalty and can be sentenced to death. in disproportionate numbers compared to white people. To put people to their death is torture. A judge in South Carolina recently found that death by electric chair is like “being burned alive” and death by firing squad is tantamount to “torture.”

“Brutal physical torture was used almost exclusively against Black suspects in Chicago during the 20-year reign of terror beginning in 1972, under police commander Jon Burge,” attorney Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office in Chicago wrote in an email to Truthout. “This state terror was sanctioned at the highest levels of the Chicago Police Department, the Cook County State’s Attorneys’ Office, and the Office of Mayor Richard M. Daley.”

Taylor, who has been involved in the fight against police torture for 35 years, said, “Some of the torture techniques applied in Chicago jails included electric shock, dry submarino (hanged upside down with the head inside a container full of water, feces, urine, etc.) with typewriter covers and plastic bags, mock executions, and all manner of beatings with nightsticks and rubber hoses focused on the genitals.”

“In response, lawyers, torture survivors and their family members, investigative journalists and an intergenerational and interracial movement of activists and community members have fought a 40-year battle to expose and combat this reign of terror,” Taylor explained. They took the issue to the Committee Against Torture, which responded by linking Chicago police torture to torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo in its 2015 report.

The activists won “a remarkable package of reparations for 60 torture survivors — the first of its kind — from the City of Chicago,” Taylor noted. “However, the fight for those torture survivors who remain behind bars due to coerced confessions, as well as many other predominately persons of color who have been, and continue to be, subjected to all forms of physical and psychological torture continues to this day in Chicago and throughout the U.S.”

The UN special rapporteur for torture was appointed in 2011. called forA ban on solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days. Solitary confinement, which could be torture or cruel, degrading, or inhuman treatment or punishment, is against the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the U.S. also ratified.

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously wrote in House of the Dead. The U.S. criminal justice system is rife with racism and torture. This is a perfect example of how cruel the United States is.

Fortunately, activists and human right organizations across the country, including the Anti-Death by Incarceration Coalition, Chicago anti-torture activists, and the Black Lives Matter movement, are working together to end these harmful and racist practices.