Los Angeles, CA - In 1988 Joel Thornton was sentenced to death by a Los Angeles County Judge in 1986. The judge, in ambiguous terms, told Thornton that he would most likely spend the rest of his life in prison before his execution.
Court transcripts quote Judge Carl Rodriguez as stating, "You are hereby sentenced to death." Thornton, after hearing the unclear verdict, said that he felt that the sentence gave him hope that he could someday return to society. "With good time nowadays, I thought I might be out in ten, fifteen years. I certainly did not view it as a death sentence," stated Thornton, via telephone from San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California
Despite his optimism and a record of mostly good behavior over the past 18 years, Thornton still remains behind bars and on death row. Thornton's case appears to be the rule, not the exception in the prison system.
A newly released report by the prisoners' rights advocacy group, Prison Care, shows clear and convincing evidence that those inmates sentenced to death are less likely to be paroled than those sentenced to shorter sentences. According to the report, those sentenced to death are ten times more likely to die in prison than other offenders. In addition, the parole rate for death row inmates remains far below the state average, at 0%.
In California's correctional system, only San Quentin State prison houses condemned inmates and prison spokesperson, Mitch Yulke reported that none of the 560 inmates currently at the prison who are scheduled for death are up for parole in the near future. "I would categorize it as extremely unlikely that any of our condemned inmates will be paroled," stated Yulke.
Dwight Tinsdale, executive director for Prison Care, expresses frustration at a system that he says treats death row inmates as de facto "lifers". Tinsdale, speaking at a rally in Sacramento Friday, stated, "What kind of a message does this send to the prison community? That if you are sentenced to death you will never be set free? It's demoralizing."