At least those on death row are still alive
Despite not being worthy of much sympathy, the five Pennsylvania death row inmates who are suing prison officials over the issue of solitary confinement have, in that federal court action, made a point that many people don’t dispute.
That is that solitary confinement can expose prisoners to possible physical, mental and emotional harm.
In the view of some law-abiding people, as well as the prisoners in question, the fact that Pennsylvania death row prisoners are locked up alone for 22 to 24 hours each day, and that their small cells are kept illuminated at all hours, represents cruel and unusual punishment — although cruelty, violence and disregard for their victims’ lives are what relegated the prisoners to their current existence.
The consolation for those on death row is that they’re still alive, and even permitted to have visitors, unlike the “solitary confinement” in which their victims’ remains exist.
One of the five inmates pursuing the lawsuit has area ties: Mark Newton Spotz, 46, a Clearfield County native, who received death sentences for killing three women in 1995 in Schuylkill, York and Cumberland counties.
In the five death row inmates’ lawsuit, which names as defendants the state Corrections secretary and the wardens at Greene and Graterford state prisons, the inmates complain that they’re kept segregated inside cells the size of a parking space and that they are permitted to exercise only in small, outdoor enclosures for no more than two hours during weekdays.
On weekends, the lawsuit says, they’re kept in their cells around the clock, unless they have a visitor.
Despite stated concerns, those conditions are appropriate for someone guilty of first-degree murder and supposedly awaiting execution.
If those inmates still value their own lives, they should feel a sense of relief that they committed their horrific crimes in the Keystone State, rather than in one of the states — like Texas — that have for years been aggressive in carrying out the death penalty.
It’s been about 18 years since Pennsylvania last executed a person for murder.
The five inmates’ lawsuit is seeking class-action status as well as a declaration that solitary confinement is inhumane, degrading and violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, and violates the guarantee of due process.
They are contending that the state hasn’t provided a meaningful way for them to challenge the conditions of their incarceration.
Reasonable, law-abiding people aren’t necessarily wrong in arguing that no avenues for challenges should be available to them.
Meanwhile, some opponents of the death penalty — and even some supporters of it — reasonably contend that the virtual “life sentence” Pennsylvania currently extends to death row inmates actually is a more effective punishment than lethal injection or any other method of execution, because the inmates continue living the sentence that was meted out to them.
Death row isn’t meant to be like a country club or recreation center.
Prisoners confined there shouldn’t feel that they’re worthy of any semblance of a cushy existence.
That includes the five inmates at the center of the lawsuit.