Groups call for the abolition of DBI in the United States; File a human rights complaint with the UN
Groups claim ‘Death by incarceration’ is torture and violates ban on racial discrimination
by David M. Greenwald
New York, NY – Since the 1970s, the use of death sentences by incarceration (DBI) or otherwise known as Life Without Parole (LWOP) has “increased exponentially since the 1970s and played a major in the conduct of mass incarceration,” according to a complaint filed Thursday with the UN.
A nationwide coalition of advocacy groups and lawyers filed a complaint with the United Nations on Thursday, claiming that the United States is committing torture and other gross human rights violations by sentencing people to “death by incarceration”.
The coalition urges the UN to call for the abolition of life imprisonment, which, like mass incarceration, occurs in the United States more often than in any other country in the world. world.
“In 2020, 15% of the total prison population, or 203,865 people, were serving life or virtual life sentences,” the complaint states. “This increase in the DBI sentenced population is further compounded by a decrease in leniency and the uncertainty of parole.”
The complaint added: “The exponential increase in DBI sentences is resulting in an increasing number of people – and a disproportionate number of racial and ethnic minorities – being sentenced to conditions inside prison that lead to untimely death. “
Emerging from a growing movement led by incarcerated people and their families, the complaint includes testimony from some of the more than 200,000 people imprisoned in the United States serving DBI sentences, which include life without parole (LWOP). , life with parole and “virtual resolution”. life sentences: sentences exceeding life expectancy.
This comes just days before a hearing in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Derek Lee, a criminal appeal in Pennsylvania Superior Court challenging LWOP’s sentences for felony murder, the term referring to when a death occurs during the commission of a crime even if the convicted person either did not kill or n intended to kill anyone.
The complaint also comes days before a rally organized by the Coalition to End Death by Custody in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, demanding that lawmakers support bills that would allow people serving DBI sentences to return from prison.
“DBI is literally a term of imprisonment that condemns men, women and children to die in prison,” Robert Labar, Vernon Robinson, Charles Bassett and Terrell Carter said in a letter attached to the complaint. They are members of the Right 2 Redemption Committee, formed by LWOP convicts in Pennsylvania. “By doing this, the state is asserting that it has the moral right to strip a human being of all hope and dignity until death.”
Terrell Carter has just returned from prison after 30 years of incarceration. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, but his sentence was commuted.
“While I was in prison, I was on a committee called Right the Redemption,” he told Vanguard in a recent Zoom interview. Their goal was to “provide a different way of looking at life without parole or death by incarceration.”
Carter described his experience of life without parole as “the feeling that I was always walking on the edge of an abyss”.
But he said: ‘I always believed I would eventually go home. I couldn’t see it all the time, and that belief was under constant attack because there was this other thought in my back that I had to fight every conscious moment while I was in prison – there was this thought that said, Terrell, why are you fighting, you’re going to die in prison.
He explained it as a thirty-year struggle “to hold on and cling to hope rather than giving up and falling into this abyss”.
For him, the key was: “People can transform. People can become better people. People are not the worst expression of themselves for the rest of their lives. There are possibilities in humans and there are possibilities for human beings to become better.
Caroline Hansen is a RAPP campaign community leader whose husband is serving a CNP sentence in New York State prison for capital murder.
She described his tough upbringing, growing up in a trailer park, doing drugs and dealing drugs, getting kicked out of his home and walking down a path that led to the horrific crime he committed.
“My husband takes full responsibility for his victim,” Hansen explained. He was facing the death penalty at the time because he was involved in the attack on a second taxi driver. He admitted to shooting a guy in the head, but denied being involved in the beating of a taxi driver. “They took the death penalty off the table, so my husband was facing life without parole.”
By removing the death penalty, ironically, “all the lawyers who had been there, there with him all along, it was all taken away because the death penalty was off the table.”
He advocated for LWOP.
“I met my husband while he was incarcerated, so I wasn’t there throughout his incarceration,” she said. At the same time, “the day they charged him (with) the death penalty was the day he got his GED in the county jail.”
“So from the first day he was arrested, he said he was getting better,” she said. “He got his associate degree. He has just obtained his baccalaureate and he is waiting to enter the master’s program.
At the same time, “he always had so much remorse for his part in the crime.”
She described it as “the most horrible act you could do to another human, it was five minutes of their life and it changed the victim’s family, it changed their family, it changed the his girlfriend’s family. It was horrible, but it was five minutes.
“I believe that an individual should be held accountable for the crime he has committed and that he should be able to take responsibility for what he has done. But now my husband has been incarcerated for 26 years and he’s not the same person he was in 1996,” she explained.
According to the statement, the complaint is intended to draw international attention to the inhuman life-sentence practices of the United States. UN responses to previous complaints have influenced US policy.
In 2011, for example, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture called for a ban on solitary confinement beyond 15 days. Since then, lawmakers in various states have imposed limits on solitary confinement, including a 15-day cap adopted in New York State.
“Death by incarceration is a structural and ideological pillar of the system of racist criminal sanctions in this country,” said Bret Grote, legal director of the Center for Abolitionist Law. “With today’s submission, we are sending a defiant and determined message that death by incarceration is a crime of state and there is a growing movement intent on bringing about its abolition.”
“Death by incarceration violates a series of interrelated human rights, the complaint argues. To deny people the hope of a life after prison is to inflict on them suffering so cruel that it amounts to torture. The DBI’s sentences also violate the prohibition against racial discrimination, as more than two-thirds of those serving them in the United States are people of color. And while in 2020 only 12.4% of the US population was black, 46% of all those serving life sentences nationwide were black,” the group said.
As the United Nations Committee against the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination recognized in its review of U.S. compliance this summer, persons “belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, including women, are overrepresented in the criminal justice system…and subject to harsher sentences, including life.” imprisonment without the possibility of parole…”.
The UN has called for the abolition of other policies, such as the death penalty and the juvenile NPC, which disproportionately subject racial and ethnic minorities to the worst consequences of the criminal justice system.
Because DBI sentences cause premature death, they also violate the right to life, and because they serve no legitimate purpose, they constitute an unlawfully arbitrary deprivation of liberty, the complaint argues.
“Life without the possibility of parole is a death sentence,” said Joanne Scheer of the DROP LWOP Coalition. “It’s a concrete box with death as the only way out. California currently has more than 5,100 people surviving this death sentence. Each year, 135 human beings are added to this tortured population, most of whom are young people under the age of 25. Add the tens of thousands of family members and loved ones who endure hopelessly alongside them and entire communities are devastated.
The United States’ reliance on DBI sentences is a key driver of mass incarceration. The number of DBI sentences began to rise sharply when, after the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972, states enacted or strengthened DBI sentencing laws. The trend continued even after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, and intensified in the 1980s with the dawn of the “tough on crime” era. Since 1984, the growth of the life sentence population has exceeded the growth of the overall prison population.
Caroline Hansen told the Vanguard: “Sometimes he just loses the will to get up, get dressed and brush his teeth because he knows he may never come home.”
She described that “we have all these programs that he completed and, you know, he completed all the programs that he didn’t have to complete, but he used all of these programs to improve. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
She said: “The nature of his crime will never change, we can’t change what happened, but we can change who we are now and what we will do in the future.”
Hansen concluded, “These living death sentences are torture. There is no other way to describe it. Some days my husband loses the will to live, knowing that the state has already decided the circumstances of his death, even if the date is uncertain.