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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

California eases conditions at death row disciplinary unit

California's death row
California's death row
California will no longer keep death row inmates in solitary confinement for years only because of their purported gang affiliations, according to a lawsuit settlement announced Monday.

6 San Quentin State Prison inmates sued in 2015, saying they were being held indefinitely under inhumane and degrading conditions in what prison officials call the "adjustment center." 1 inmate had been there for 26 years and 2 others for more than a decade when the lawsuit was filed.

About 100 inmates were held when the lawsuit was filed. The number had recently dropped to less than 10, although the corrections department said Monday that it has since increased to 22 inmates.

"I think that this settlement provides for a more humane treatment of prisoners who are in that very difficult situation, facing the death penalty," said Dan Siegel, an Oakland-based attorney who filed the lawsuit.

Inmates can still be sent to the windowless cells if they are considered an immediate danger to the prison or others, or if they have at least 3 infractions within 5 years for offenses including fighting or possessing drugs or cellphones. The length of their disciplinary sentences can be increased by 1/2 if they are gang members.

But the maximum length of time in the adjustment center is 5 years, with a review every 6 months to see if they can be released. They also can have certain property taken away as punishment for no more than 90 days, according to the settlement obtained by The Associated Press before it was filed in federal court.

The adjustment center is 1 of 3 units in the nation's largest death row, which has 749 condemned inmates.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had already changed its policies and none of the plaintiffs are in the center anymore, spokeswoman Vicky Waters said.

The lawsuit is patterned after a class-action lawsuit that the state settled in September 2015. California agreed then to end its unlimited isolation of imprisoned gang leaders, a practice that once kept hundreds of inmates in isolation for a decade or longer.

"The safety of California prisons in terms of risks to staff and other prisoners has really not been enhanced by keeping people in solitary," Siegel said.

The state will pay inmates" attorneys $245,000 under the agreement.

Source: Associated Press, March 7, 2017

⏩ Related content: Buried Alive: Stories From Inside Solitary Confinement, March 2, 2017

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