Healing Inmates in Order to Kill Them

San Quentin State Prison is home to California's death row. And the condition of the residents of that death row is such that the state is about to open a mental hospital just for them.

Yes: the state of California is constructing a 40-bed hospital at San Quentin prison with the specific aim of providing psychiatric care to "deeply disturbed death row inmates." The act of providing sorely needed mental health care to the needy is, of course, always welcome. But let's consider some of the implications of this action.

1. There are so many "deeply disturbed" mentally ill inmates among the 720 men on California's death row that it is necessary to build a brand new mental hospital just for them.

2. The fact that there are so many mentally ill inmates on death row means that either mentally ill people were sentenced to death, or that death row is making people mentally ill. Neither is good.

3. The state's primary interest in providing mental health treatment to these inmates is to render them fit to kill—"Federal courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people who are not aware of what is happening to them."

4. In this sense, the act of healing inmates is only undertaken with the goal of making their suffering during death more acute.

California has more death row inmates than any other state. One reason for that is that California has not executed anyone since 2006, because of challenges to its execution procedures. In the meantime, dozens of death row inmates have died on their own. Many others have sat in their cells becoming mentally ill.

If the state of California wants to kill people, it should openly acknowledge the cruel, inhumane, brutal nature of the act of killing people. At least then the public could make a more informed choice about what is being done on its behalf. Healing someone in order to kill them is the perfect expression of our country's futile quest for moral absolution to accompany our lust for vengeance.

[Photo: AP]