Is it Time to Make 'Hard Time' Harder?

A fate worse than death?

Would changing the terms of life without parole to something more punitive -- call it hard-life -- mean that if given a choice, more of those condemned to life would opt for death?

What if life without parole included hard labor?

Convicted murderess Jodi Arias is back in the news, having lost her visitation privileges for 180 days for calling a prison guard a “c%^$-blocker.” Since the Urban Dictionary includes vernacular for both sexual organs in defining the term, it is not clear from published reports which variation Arias used.

It’s been just under a year since Arias was sentenced to Arizona’s “natural life,” which unlike a “life” sentence means she will never be eligible for parole.

Soon after the sentencing we got a look at the cell where she will spend the rest of her life. For the first five years, her confinement at the Lumley Unit at the Arizona State Prison Complex will be particularly grim: solitary confinement,  prison food through a slot, no contact visits (visits without a plate glass barrier), and only short, unaccompanied exercise periods to break the routine.

Image via Arizona Dept. of Corrections Image via Arizona Dept. of Corrections

After five years, with perfect behavior (a status she has temporarily blown), Arias may attain medium security status, and qualify for privileges, including opportunities for contact visits, interaction with the general population, and the potential to earn a low-wage income at various prison jobs. With her earnings she would be able to shop at the prison store.

Every remaining night of her life, however, she will live, sleep, and breathe in total isolation with a sink-over-toilet, two slotted windows, and no hope beyond whatever faith she can find in the ruins of her life.

It’s a stone bitch, but if the only alternative was an enforced death penalty, the vast majority of us would fight to live that life.

I posit that if a life sentence involved an eternity of asceticism and physical toil, a theoretical choice between hard-life and death would become a real consideration for a percentage of the condemned.

The Biblical “eye for an eye,” and an unhappy pragmatism about the need to thin the herd of violent sociopaths and premeditating murderers have contributed to a consensus that marks the United States as a last Western holdout in favor of capital punishment.