Death Penalty News: Study Finds Death Row Inmates Socio-Economically Disadvantaged, Death Penalty Delays Possibly Unconstitutional

A landmark study of India’s legal system has given rise to concerning death penalty news. The report revealed that over three-quarters of death row inmates are socio-economically disadvantaged from their first breath and suffer horrific mistreatment while awaiting the death penalty. This death penalty news raises questions about the lot of death row inmates in America, where an Oklahoma judge argues that lengthy death penalty delays are unconstitutional, averaging 18 years on death row between sentence and execution.

Further interrogation of how prisoners on death row are treated revealed shocking transgressions of human rights in Indian jails, stating that over 80 percent of death row inmates are subjected to “inhuman, degrading and extreme forms of physical and mental torture” inside prisons. The report, published by Delhi National Law University’s Centre for Death Penalty, also showed that of those sentenced to death row, 30 percent are acquitted of charges and released. Approximately 70 percent had never accessed professional legal advice, and the vast majority were intensely economically vulnerable and uneducated.

Death Penalty News - Death Row Inmates suffer mistreatment, death penalty unconstitutional, study says
Over three quarters of death row inmates are socio-economically disadvantaged from their first breath, and suffer horrific mistreatment while awaiting the death penalty. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

India’s Economic Times reports that legal experts are shocked by the death penalty news of the study, which found that death row inmates are socio-economically disadvantaged long before their sentencing to execution.

“The report throws light into the life of death row convicts and is a critical analysis of the criminal justice system, which according to Justice Lokur, requires a major procedural and substantive reformation,” the Economic Times reports.

“Seventy six per cent of convicts awaiting gallows belong to backward classes and religious minorities, as per the report which also indicates that all the 12 female death row convicts in the country belong to the above mentioned categories,” reports the Economic Times. “The study also found that 23 per cent of prisoners sentenced to death had never attended school and 61.6 per cent had not completed their secondary education.”

Anup Surendranath, the director of New Delhi’s Centre for Death Penalty, told the Economic Times that while arguments regarding direct discrimination cannot yet be made, the report highlights the “disparate impact” of the death penalty in India on marginalized groups due to caste, religion, economic vulnerability, and education.

The experiences of convicts sentenced to death in India are more tangible; physical abuse, violence, and humiliation are concrete forms of suffering, with real but not instantaneous solutions. Under these circumstances, it seems that the death penalty might be a welcome release from the horrors of prison life whether rightly or wrongfully convicted.

In a new case put forward in America, Justice Stephen Breyer of Oklahoma asks policy makers to quantify the mental and emotional torment suffered by American death row inmates as they suffer decades of waiting for execution due to lengthy death penalty delays. Justice Breyer purports that due to long delays, the death penalty is unconstitutional, citing statistics that show inmates spend an average of 18 years on death row, an unfair and unreasonable time to wait in limbo between sentencing and execution.

Death Penalty News - Death Row Inmates - Justice Stephen G. Breyer, upper right, received mixed reactions to his argument that the death penalty is unconstitutional. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)
Justice Stephen G. Breyer, upper right, received mixed reactions to his argument that the death penalty is unconstitutional. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)

According to Newsweek, the two pillars of Breyer’s argument that the death penalty is unconstitutional are the mental health of prisoners on death row and the undermining of the deterrent value of the death penalty posed by long delays.

“First, life on death row is miserable. Quoting an earlier dissenting opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens, Breyer wrote that delay ‘subjects death row inmates to decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement,’ aggravated by the anxiety caused by uncertainty about whether and when execution will occur,” said Newsweek. “Second, Breyer argued that long delay undermines the retributive interest served by, and any deterrent value of, the death penalty.”

Justice Breyer’s dissent to current principles of capital punishment received mixed responses. Some argue that execution delays are the result of extensive procedures brought about by the same liberal-minded policy makers who now invoke those delays to invalidate the death penalty.

Contrarily, responses to the death penalty news within the report revealing that death row inmates are socio-economically disadvantaged and suffer horrific mistreatment during long death penalty delays are largely ones of shock and renewed activism. Many have called for a review of the deeply entrenched biases of capital punishment in India, a review that cannot come soon enough for death row inmates in India.

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