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Necessary Suffering?: Weighing Government and Prisoner Interests in Determining What is Cruel and Unusual

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 49 Issue: 4 Dated: Fall 2012 Pages: 1815-1861
Brittany Glidden
Date Published
47 pages
This article addresses the issues inherent in the eighth amendment and discusses modifications for determining what is cruel and unusual punishment.
The treatment of convicted offenders in the United States is governed by the eighth amendment. The eighth amendment to the Constitution forbids the Federal, State, and local governments from inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on convicted offenders. When prison conditions are considered harsh and extreme, a prisoner may challenge the conditions using a two-prong test. The test consists of two prongs: 1) the condition is sufficiently serious, known as the objective prong; and 2) prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to the condition, known as the subjective prong. When cases challenging prisoner treatment have come before the courts, the author has found that examination of these conditions has often lacked the use of a proportionality analysis, that is whether the condition is "too excessive" given the current situation. The author argues that the two-prong test should be modified to include the use of a proportionality analysis in weighing the treatment of convicted offenders against the wishes of the criminal justice system in protecting the public. The author presents an overview of the eighth amendment, describing its history, its theoretical underpinnings, and a description of the problems that currently exist with the use of the two-prong test. The author then presents a method for modifying the two-prong test that includes the use of a proportionality analysis: is the contested condition too excessive given the purpose for which it is employed. The author also proposes that courts examine the intent of prison officials in imposing the condition and consider the relevancy of the intent. The author states that this modification will maintain the integrity of the two-prong test while at the same time ensuring that the balance is maintained between society's need to protect the public while also treating convicted offenders in a fair and balanced manner.