Death Penalty Violates 8th Amendment

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How the Prison System Violates the 8th Amendment

“It is said that no one truly know a nation until one has been insides its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest one”. In this quote, Nelson Mandela highlights that the way prisoners are being treated will tell you about its government. Today, in our modern world, our prisons can be described as modern day slavery. The way our prisons system is ran, it questions the values we stand for as a country.

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Our prison system in America is definitely one of the worst. This is because it prioritizes anything and everyone but the prisoners and violates the 8th amendment. All these arguments contribute to the focus argument of this essay; does prison violates the 8th amendment? We will be focusing on this throughout the the essay, because this is also controversial topic and issue.

In 1787, when the United States of America created the constitution it didn’t include the bill of rights, which additionally did not restrict ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. After it was reviewed, the Bill of Rights was presently included. The constitution was more detailed and explained individuals rights compare to the Articles of Confederation. The federal government was given the power such as the capacity of punishing someone who has committed a federal crime. Individuals who were against the constitution at the time felt that the legislature would utilize its forces to persecute the general population. After the constitution was sanctioned it denied the exceedingly fierce discipline, as referenced in the eighth Amendment.

The 8th amendment starts to become a big debate when people are talking about the death penalty or giving someone a lengthy time in prison therefore this is a area where many people differ. One of the topics of the debate is what standard should be used when the courts are deciding whether or not a punishment is unconstitutional and cruel. Some of the issues that the courts have is whether it they should look at it from the perspective of when the 8th amendment was adopted in 1791 or if it should go based on public opinion or moral views. Another argument is if the 8th amendment only bans ruthless punishments or punishments that are not compatible to the the offence. Another argument that is controversial is whether or not the death penalty falls under “cruel and unusual punishment” so should it be considered unconstitutional. One side believes that if a person commits a horrific crime, they deserve the death penalty but the other side believes no crime is worthy of the death penalty.

Prison serves four main purposes. They are incapacitation, deterrence, retribution, and rehabilitation. Incapacitation is when a criminal is ostracized from society so that he/she will not harm innocent people. Deterrence is to convince the prisoner to be afraid to commit the crime again and to scare others from wanting to commit the same crime. Retribution is when a criminal’s freedom is taken away because they have committed crime against the society. Rehabilitation is designed to transform criminals into law abiding citizens through various methods including activities such as being offered jobs, in-prison education, counselling etc.

The motivation behind jail as examined already appears to be a sensible method for managing individuals who have perpetrated violations. The issue exists in the way that what is composed on paper isn’t being done in real life in each jail. Today we have numerous cases and issues where detainment facilities are conflicting with what they guarantee to depend on and are likewise conflicting with the eighth amendment. Jails were configuration to be a place that somebody goes and contemplate about what they’ve done and turned out with a superior mentality on how they should live in the public arena. While in jail, one ought not need to stress over being dealt with like a creature or being denied of fundamental necessities like medicine. Jail ought not be where a man in general wellbeing and prosperity is disregarded.

For instance, the Brown v. Plata case, according to, is about how the prison law office in Berkeley California filed a lawsuit on behalf of Marciano Plata and several other prisoners. They felt as if the prisons were violating the 8th amendment by being “cruel and unusual” because of overcrowding in the prisons. Three federal judges determined that the serious overcrowding in California 33’ prisons was the “primary cause” for violations of the 8th amendment. The court ordered for the release of enough prisoners so the inmate population would come within 137.5 percent of the prison total design capacity, according to

The reason why overcrowding in prisons is considered “cruel and unusual punishment” simply because it facilitates the conditions for inmates to become sick. Overcrowding in prisons makes it difficult for prisons to meet basic human needs, which is very “cruel and unusual”. Also programs such as rehabilitation programs and educational programs would be difficult to distribute to each inmate. Overcrowding in prisons also do not allow prisoners to have any sort of privacy and leads to fights in prisons between inmates, which is threatening to everyone’s life in the prison.

Another case that involves a prison going against the 8th amendment is the Coleman v. Brown case. An article from Cornell Law School was published called, “Eighth Amendment: Cruel and Unusual Punishment and the Prison Litigation Reform Act” mentions how in 1995, the district court found the Coleman case failed to provide the inmates in California prisons with care for mental illness as the inmates were not receiving proper medical treatment. This went against the 8th amendment because it threatens the inmates well being. It is also goes against the purpose of prison in the first place. If the inmates are expected to go back into society and be active citizens, we need to make sure that they are giving them the proper care needed to achieve their transformation goal. Prison is supposed to help one reflect and become a better human being but with the current prison conditions, it is extremely hard for an inmate to come out of a prison and be an active citizen as expected.

Furthermore, according to, the Graham v. Florida case was about a teenage boy name Terrance Graham who was convicted of armed burglary and attempted armed robbery. He served a one year sentence and was released. About six months later, Graham was convicted by the Florida State court of armed home robbery and was sentenced to life without parole. This is also considered as “cruel and unusual punishment” because Terrance is a juvenile who is receiving life without parole. He fought for his case until it reached the supreme court and the supreme court sided with Graham. This juvenile did not commit a homicide, but was sentenced to life without parole as if he was a monster who commited a horrific crime. This sort of sentencing is inhumane and unjust.

The prison system is apparently broken and doing more harm than good. Many people are given lengthy sentences that does not match their respective crimes at all. According to an article called “19 Actual Statistics about America’s Prison Systems”, published by Laura Dimon in 2014, mentions that in 2014, more people were behind bars for drug offences than there was in 1980 for all offences combined. This is an extremely disturbing fact about our justice system in America. The question that is now asked is are we just throwing people in prison to help them or is it slowly becoming a place to just hold people hostage. When it comes to drug offences, maybe the person needs treatment other than prison and the court should be more attentive to the type of punishments that are being handed out.

If we want to better our prison system we need to start with having actual medical treatment for the inmates by making it easier to access proper medical treatment. It is also important for us to not allow prisons to become overcrowded which makes it easy for issues to arise and for people to get sick. The government should also force every prison to have an education system for inmates, so that they can acquire the necessary knowledge to benefit themselves and society. They should also have counselling or a safe space where they can release themselves and talk about their issues. Thankfully, today we have individuals who are creating programs that aim to help inmates in prison, such as the prison-to-college pipeline. In fact, in some prisons, inmates are granted the opportunity to get an education while incarcerated. In an article by Carlowe J., it is mentioned how a healthcare worker failed to revive an inmate. The healthcare worker felt really bad but also felt as if it was the system that had failed the inmate as well. This is because he felt that they did not train him enough to deal with such predicaments. In our prisons, we need to make sure everyone who is working in the prison is trained properly, so no one’s feels that they’re always at risk and are guaranteed protection. Another program that is assisting inmates is called H.O.P.E. This program helps inmates who are getting out by providing them with housing, educational, and employment needs.

These are the type of programs we will need if we want inmates to succeed, even after they are convicted of a crime. We all make bad choices, some worse than others, but we mustn’t allow our bad choices to define us. As we are all trying to survive in this world, we need to help one another and not harm each other. And we can do so by providing necessary services to prisons and avoiding trespassing the 8th amendment. After all, no one deserves a “cruel and unusual punishment”.

Works Cited

  1. Legal Information Institute – Eighth Amendment: Cruel and Unusual Punishment and the Prison Litigation Reform Act
  2. Brown v. Plata. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved November 23, 2018, from
  3. Graham v. Florida. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved November 23, 2018, from
  4. 19 Actual Statistics about America’s Prison System, published by Laura Dimon 2014
  5. Carlowe, J. (2004). Prison reform. Nursing Standard (Royal College of Nursing (Great Britain) : 1987), 18(42), 16-7.
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Death Penalty Violates 8th Amendment. (2021, Apr 12). Retrieved from