Does every crime warrant the death penalty?

by Symptom Advice on March 9, 2012

Does every crime warrant the death penalty? if so, you have no problem with the way inmates are treated in Arizona’s prisons.

If not, then there is terrible, unacceptable truth to the lawsuit filed earlier this week by the American Civil Liberties Union claiming that Arizona’s prisons systematically violate inmates’ protection from “cruel and unusual” punishment under the eight Amendment.

The day the lawsuit was filed I wrote about it for  I didn’t expect public reaction to be all that positive. it wasn’t. Not based on some of the responses I received from readers.

Daniel Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona told me, “if someone in prison loses a leg because of symptoms that were ignored, as has happened, or someone goes blind, or other things that leave them incapacitated, for the most part these individuals will get out of prison. And because of their inability to work they will wind up on the public dole and we will pay for them in the long term. but that isn’t the most important part. The most important part is doing what is right. Allowing people to die so horribly, that can’t be OK."

Or can it?

Here are a few examples cited in the lawsuit, followed by examples of responses I received from readers.

LAWSUIT: “For two years, mr. (Ferdinand) Dix … exhibited many symptoms consistent with lung cancer, including a chronic cough and persistent shortness of breath, and he tested positive for tuberculosis. Due to the metastasized cancer, mr. Dix’s liver was infested with tumors and grossly enlarged to four times normal size, pressing on other internal organs and impeding his ability to eat, but no medical staff even performed a simple palpation of his abdomen. Instead, medical staff told him to drink energy shakes. When mr. Dix was finally taken to an outside hospital in a non-responsive state in February 2011, his abdomen was distended to the size of that of a full-term pregnant woman … mr. Dix died from the untreated cancer a few days after ADC finally sent him to the hospital.”

READER: “I didn’t realize prison was supposed to be a five star resort.”

LAWSUIT: “in July 2010 … Tony Lester (an inmate) who had paranoid schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, and auditory hallucinations, had been taken off suicide watch, taken off his medications, and housed in the general population, where he was given a hygiene kit that included a razor. He used the razor blade to slit his throat, groin, and wrists, and he wrote the word “VOICES” in his blood on an envelope. An ADC internal investigation found that the four responding officers stood by and did not administer any basic first aid.”

READER: “I’m sorry, take care of our VETERANS first, criminals are just that, criminals.”

LASWUIT: “in another example, in May 2011, a prisoner who was four months pregnant began experiencing painful contractions and spotting blood, and went to Perryville’s medical unit. The staff person on duty told her it was nothing serious, that her problems were “all in your head” … She was sent back to her living unit, and she continued to experience great pain and cramping for an hour and a half, until she miscarried.”

READER: “if I got cancer right now I would die too, as I have no way to pay for any treatment. is that fair? I work every single day, pay my bills … but because we have to spend millions on (inappropriate term) and prisoners’ care there is nothing left for anyone else.”

The sister of Ferdinand Dix told me that her brother, who died from untreated cancer, had been sentenced to five or six years in prison for drug related offenses.

“Yes, my brother battled with addiction and was incarcerated for it,” she said. “but he was also my mother’s son, my brother and a friend when you needed one.  above all else, however, he was a human being who did not deserve to suffer as he had been suffering while an inmate…”

Unless every crime warrants a death sentence.

(Column for Mar. 8, 2012 Arizona Republic)

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