In his guest essay, “San Quentin Could Be the Future of Prisons in America,” in the New York Times, Bill Keller writes that “there are many ways to measure the disaster that is America’s prison system,” but the fact that “haunts” him the most is that of the 600,000 people released from prisons every year, “about three-quarters of those released from state prisons nationwide are arrested again within five years.” And because California has one of the highest recidivism rates, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent decision to transform San Quentin Prison into the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center “deserves national attention.”
In its editorial in the Dallas Morning News, the editorial board asks, “Why won’t Texas ban executions for people with severe mental illness?” A bill introduced by Dallas Democrat Rep. Toni Rose that would ban the death penalty for people with a severe mental illness passed the House but has now stalled. “Rose’s bill wouldn’t shield murderers with severe mental illness from consequences, only from the death penalty. They could still be sentenced to life in prison without parole,” the editorial board argues.
In her memoir, He Called Me Sister: A True Story of Finding Humanity on Death Row, Suzanne Craig Robertson writes of her family’s — her, her husband, and their two daughters — friendship with Cecil C. Johnson Jr., sentenced to death for killing three people during a robbery in Nashville in 1980. Initially, a visit set up through a church program run by the Rev. Joe Ingle for Suzanne’s husband, Alan Robertson, grew into a group friendship. This bond lasted 15 years until Johnson’s execution in 2009. “He set an example, like remembering every one of our birthdays — every time — with personal homemade cards, and his ability to laugh and keep a heart full of joy in the face of a hard existence,” Robertson writes.
In his op-ed, “Why the Biden administration should spare Tree of Life shooter Robert Bowers’ life,” in Religion News Service, David Saperstein argues that President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland “should consider the guidance of the collective wisdom of Jewish institutions,” and opt for a plea bargain for life without parole for Robert Bowers, who is accused of killing 11 Jewish members in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, and whose federal death penalty trial began this week.
In his book, Prison Life: Pain, Resistance, and Purpose, Ian O’Donnell examines the lives of imprisoned people in Africa, Europe, and the U.S., describing how order is maintained, power is exercised, and meaning is found in prisons ranging from the federal Supermax in Colorado, to the H Blocks run by the IRA in Northern Ireland, to an Ethiopian prison in which the imprisoned live by rules and conduct they devise and enforce.