"These prisons are just absolutely horrific places to be, there is violence throughout them, absolute overcrowding, the noise is deafening, no one would voluntarily choose to be there," said Jon Gould, a criminal justice professor at American University. "We are fooling ourselves if we allow ourselves to believe that one picture of a dominos game suggests this is a something other than a horrific life to live."
Some opponents of harsh punishment say the United States should follow Europe's lead. Germany for example requires guards to knock before they enter prisoners' cells and provides jobs inside prison, including unemployment insurance and vacation time.
But Blecker said attitudes about crime and punishment might change if the public were aware of some of these conditions. He insisted that he is not advocating prisoners being deprived of their rights, just that the punishment should fit the crime.
"For the worst of the worst of the worst, the ones who are raping and murdering children, there should be punishment," Blecker said. "That quality of life that they experience day to day should be a direct reflection on the heinousness and seriousness of the crime."
State legislatures are also starting to make changes. Following a public uproar over Hembree's letter, a committee of the North Carolina House of Representatives voted to suspend television privileges for death row inmates.
And three days after the Hartford Courant published a controversial editorial by Blecker, calling for greater punishment for the worst of the worst, the Connecticut legislature took action and passed a law that now requires those who get life without parole to serve that sentence without recreation or contact visits.