Representatives from CCR and FIDH traveled to both states this spring to document living conditions on death row and interview prisoners, people who have been exonerated, advocates and legal counsel in capital cases. In both states, they found condemned prisoners were often being held in solitary confinement for decades, a practice that leads to severe psychological and physical harm. CCR and FIDH also noted stark racial and geographic disparities in death penalty charging and sentencing rates in both states, as well as a significant overrepresentation of minorities on death row. In California, the ratio of African Americans on death row is nearly six times their percentage in the population at large, and in Louisiana, the percentage of African Americans is double their representation in the population.
“The death penalty constitutes an inherent violation of the most fundamental of all human rights: the right to live,” said Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who led the mission in Louisiana. “Not only are death row prisoners being denied this fundamental right in a process known to be rife with errors and discrimination, but in California and Louisiana, they are also being held, sometimes for decades on end, in conditions that clearly violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party.”
In Louisiana’s Angola prison, the report describes how death row inmates remain in their cells for 23 hours each day without proper ventilation, even when the heat index inside the prison exceeds 110 degrees. Death row prisoners are not allowed to participate in recreational or rehabilitative programming. On the country’s most populous death row at San Quentin State Prison in California, the average length of time prisoners spend waiting for attorneys to be assigned and for courts to adjudicate their post-conviction claims is 17 and a half years. More death row inmates have committed suicide than have been executed by the state, and more than half of the 741 death row prisoners are currently without representation. And in both states, prisoners are often denied adequate medical and mental health care.
“Louisiana and California should urgently revise their policy and abolish the death penalty.” said Florence Bellivier, FIDH Representative on Death Penalty and President of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, who led the mission in California “In 2012, 21 countries carried out executions, including the United States. By abolishing capital punishment, the US would join a growing national and worldwide movement. It’s about the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights.”
October 10th is the World Day Against the Death Penalty. The report was presented yesterday at the American University’s Washington College of Law in Washington, DC.