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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

California eases conditions at death row disciplinary unit

California's death row
California's death row
California will no longer keep death row inmates in solitary confinement for years only because of their purported gang affiliations, according to a lawsuit settlement announced Monday.

6 San Quentin State Prison inmates sued in 2015, saying they were being held indefinitely under inhumane and degrading conditions in what prison officials call the "adjustment center." 1 inmate had been there for 26 years and 2 others for more than a decade when the lawsuit was filed.

About 100 inmates were held when the lawsuit was filed. The number had recently dropped to less than 10, although the corrections department said Monday that it has since increased to 22 inmates.

"I think that this settlement provides for a more humane treatment of prisoners who are in that very difficult situation, facing the death penalty," said Dan Siegel, an Oakland-based attorney who filed the lawsuit.

Inmates can still be sent to the windowless cells if they are considered an immediate danger to the prison or others, or if they have at least 3 infractions within 5 years for offenses including fighting or possessing drugs or cellphones. The length of their disciplinary sentences can be increased by 1/2 if they are gang members.

But the maximum length of time in the adjustment center is 5 years, with a review every 6 months to see if they can be released. They also can have certain property taken away as punishment for no more than 90 days, according to the settlement obtained by The Associated Press before it was filed in federal court.

The adjustment center is 1 of 3 units in the nation's largest death row, which has 749 condemned inmates.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had already changed its policies and none of the plaintiffs are in the center anymore, spokeswoman Vicky Waters said.

The lawsuit is patterned after a class-action lawsuit that the state settled in September 2015. California agreed then to end its unlimited isolation of imprisoned gang leaders, a practice that once kept hundreds of inmates in isolation for a decade or longer.

"The safety of California prisons in terms of risks to staff and other prisoners has really not been enhanced by keeping people in solitary," Siegel said.

The state will pay inmates" attorneys $245,000 under the agreement.

Source: Associated Press, March 7, 2017

⏩ Related content: Buried Alive: Stories From Inside Solitary Confinement, March 2, 2017

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