Wasted Resources and Gratuitous Suffering: The Failure of a Security Rationale for Death Row

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The confinement of capital punishment (death-sentenced) inmates nationwide is typified by marked interpersonal isolation and activity deprivation on segregated death rows. These supermaximum security measures are ostensibly based on an assumption that capital punishment inmates are at high risk for violence. Supermaximum confinement on death row has high costs: fiscal, staffing, and psychological. Prior research on capital punishment inmates mainstreamed in the general prison population or under conditions approximating this confinement has reported low violence rates. This study provided a 25-year follow-up on the Missouri Department of Corrections unique policy of “mainstreaming” capital punishment inmates into the general population of the Potosi Correctional Center (PCC). Findings remained consistent in showing that mainstreamed capital punishment inmates (N = 85) had equivalent or lower rates of violent misconduct than inmates serving life-without-parole (N = 702) or term-sentences (N = 3,000). The failure of assumptions of high violence risk undergirding death row has important public policy and correctional implications.

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