More benefits planned for some Oklahoma death row inmates | TribLIVE.com
U.S./World

More benefits planned for some Oklahoma death row inmates

Associated Press
1758281_web1_1758281-68ca9c207c834719a5c6e8efa25266df
AP
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections plans to move some of the 44 death row inmates housed at the maximum-security H-Unit at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., to another unit to give them more benefits and access to the outdoors.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Some of the 44 death row inmates housed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester will soon be moved from the prison’s maximum-security H-Unit to another unit to give them more benefits and access to the outdoors, the state’s new prisons boss said.

In a letter released by the agency on Thursday, the Department of Corrections’ Interim Executive Director Scott Crow told officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma that the agency plans to move “qualifying inmates” to its less restrictive A-Unit by the end of October. The ACLU had threatened legal action over what it says are potential constitutional violations of the rights of death row inmates, mostly by confining them to their cells for 23 hours per day.

“This move will significantly change their access to natural light and view of the outdoors,” Crow wrote in the Sept. 26 letter to ACLU of Oklahoma staff attorney Megan Lambert. “Furthermore, recreation on A-Unit has direct sunlight and outside air in a fenced rather than walled environment where conversation among inmates is unrestricted.”

Crow says the agency also plans to begin “contact” visitation for some of the moved death row inmates, who are currently allowed only noncontact visits behind Plexiglas and over a telephone.

Lambert said there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the new policy, but she is pleased the agency is willing to reconsider how it houses death row inmates.

“One man on H-Unit was crying with happiness, he was so happy that he would be able to hold his grandchild for the first time,” Lambert said. “He wanted to know what it was like to touch a blade of grass again.”

DOC spokesman Matt Elliott declined Thursday to elaborate on the housing changes the agency plans to make, saying Crow preferred to let the letter speak for itself.

In the letter, Crow says the ACLU’s concerns have been the topic of informal discussions within the agency and the broader corrections community.

“If the inmates adjust well to the A-Unit environment, we will assess their suitability for jobs and congregate religious services,” Crow wrote.

Not everyone thinks policy change is a good idea. Randy Lopez, a retired correctional officer who spent nearly 20 years of his career at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, said many death row inmates would be targets of violence from other offenders, particularly those convicted of killing children.

“It’s a bad move,” Lopez said of the new policy. “You put a guy like that in general population, somebody will kill them,” Lopez said.

Lopez referenced the recent case of Anthony Palma, convicted of murder in the 1997 disappearance of his 8-year-old neighbor, who was found beaten and strangled to death in his cell at OSP earlier this year.

Categories: World
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.