In Florida, Do Certain Types of Prisoners Have an Incentive to Kill Fellow Inmates?

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The Daily Beast describes Netflix’s “I am a Killer” as “A Mesmerizing Glimpse Into the Mind of a Murderer.”  It is compelling television.  The first episode focuses on James Robertson, who is on death roll under the most bizarre of circumstances.

The article goes on:

In the first episode of Netflix’s latest true-crime docuseries I Am a Killer, producers sit down with James Robertson, an inmate in a Florida correctional facility who spent most of his life in prison, and is now on death row for murdering his cellmate. Robertson is charming, if a bit kooky, and engagingly loquacious. Listening to him recount his childhood, descent into crime, and subsequent incarceration, you almost forget that Robertson is a killer.

Until producers ask him about the murder. Robertson mulls it over for a minute. He admits that he was pretty confident in his ability to overpower his victim, and is matter of fact about how quickly he took to kill. According to Robertson, the whole thing took “about six minutes, five or six minutes.” He pauses for a second, then clarifies, “Four minutes, maybe.”

“I don’t feel bad about it,” Robertson adds, chuckling to himself. To producers, he says, “You think that’s really something, don’t you?”

Robertson had never killed anyone before his years of incarceration. He had spent over three decades in prison, and most of that time in solitary confinement (called “close management”).  When in confinement, not only do they spend 23 hours a day in their cell, they have additional restrictions that the larger prison population does not have.  In fact, even those on death roll.  Robertson argues in the show that he killed his cellmate (during one of his rare stints out of confinement) to get on death roll once and for all.  

The article continues:

Robertson spent 20 years in and out of close management, resenting the “daily humiliation” and increasing isolation he had to endure; close management was a nightmare, he says, and surprisingly, it was the inmates on death row who Robertson envied. Treated to a private exercise area, better food, and generally more freedoms (think: television and phone call access, longer visiting hours), death row inmates had it pretty good, according to a prison nurse who worked at the facility where Robertson was incarcerated.

And Robertson was eager to join them. After the guards had made their rounds one night, he strung together some socks and strangled his cellmate, a convicted pedophile named Frank Hart. “I wanted to get on death row,” Robertson says multiple times. As for close management, he explains, “I’d be a lot more sane if I hadn’t been locked in a cell for all those years.” During his murder trial, Robertson repeatedly emphasized his desire to receive the death penalty; after a pre-trial investigation agreed, he was relegated to death row. As of now, he does not have an execution date.

Robertson argues he is not the only one. It makes a case for rethinking penitentiary strategies.

This is compelling television. Check out the trailer here:

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