Death Penalty and Death Row in USA

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Information concerning the Terrell Unit

June 27, From: Rick Halperin

Carl Reynolds, TDCJ's General Counsel, recently provided responses to 21 questions posed to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice at its May 27, 1999 meeting. The questions and Mr. Reynolds' responses are below. Mr. Reynolds' responses reference 5 attachments. You can request these attachments from Victoria Rich of the Office of the General Counsel either informally (just ask her to send you the attachments), or under the Texas Open Records Act, Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code (also via Victoria Rich).

1.  Terrell Unit Profile, July 1998
2.  TDCJ-ID Death Row Plan, March 1999
3.  TDCJ-ID Visitation Plan, January 1999
4.  Proposed Board Rule, Section 151.53 Death Row Visitation
5.  TDCJ Ombudsman Office Brochure, July 1998

Responses to Questions Raised at the 76th TBCJ Meeting.

What kind of facility is the Terrell Unit?
The Terrell Unit is a Maximum Security Prison Facility Built in 1993. The Death Row Offenders will be housed in 12 Building, a separate building within the facility that currently houses Administrative Segregation Offenders. Administrative Segregation is a non-punitive status involving separation of an offender from the general population for the purpose of maintaining safety, security, and order. The cells in 12 Building are single occupancy cells measuring 60 square feet, with each cell having a window. (Also see attached Unit profile).

Will Death Row Offenders be cut off from human contact?
No. However, all Death Row Offenders will be single celled, which will reduce the amount of contact current work capable offenders have since they are currently double celled.

Is the Terrell Unit air-conditioned?
No. The 12 Building at Terrell Unit, and all other "Michael Prototypes" have tempered air for climate control. The tempered air system is designed to keep the air temperature approximately 85 degrees.

Will the craft program be restored?
Yes. As outlined in the In-cell Programs section of the Death Row Plan. (See attached plan)

Will the work program be resumed?
Yes. The current plan is to have a work program for eligible Death Row Offenders. The details concerning eligibility and implementation of the program are under review.

Will they have access to reading materials, writing materials and typewriters?
Yes. As outlined in the Property and correspondence section of the Death Row Plan. (See attached Plan)

Will they have access to law books?
Yes. As outlined in the Management Procedures and Access to General Library and Law Library sections of the Death Row Plan. (See attached Plan)

Will they have access to radio and a chance to watch television?
Yes/No. Death Row Offenders, Work Capable and Level I, will be allowed to have a radio. Death Row Offenders will not be allowed to watch television.

Will they have out of cell recreation and chances to visit with fellow prisoners?
Yes. However, the current plan is to recreate all Death Row Offenders separately. The physically separate recreation areas do allow for verbal communication between offenders. The recreation schedule is outlined in the Recreation section of the Death Row Plan. (See attached plan)

Are the visitation facilities different at the Terrell Unit?
Yes. Terrell currently has 8 visitation cubicles and 2 legal cubicles available for Death Row Visitation. Plans are underway to increase the number of cubicles. The visitation spaces separate the offenders and the visitors with a glass partition, and communication is by telephone, as defined in the General Visitation section of the Visitation Plan. See attached plan)

How long will the wait be if there are only eight spaces available for visitation?
The length of time a visitor may have to wait will be dependent on the number of visitors at any particular time. As noted, plans are underway to increase the number of cubicles.

Do Prison officials hope to discourage, still further, the few visits Death Row Prisoners receive?
No. It is the policy of the TDCJ to enable and encourage offenders, consistent with security and classification restraints, to have visits with family members and friends.

Have all "corrective services" (Religions Services) been removed from Death Row Offenders?
No. Group Religions Services are no longer being conducted. Also, the number of Religious Volunteers for Death Row has been limited for management purposes. Death Row Offenders still have access to Religious Volunteers and Ministerial/Spiritual Advisors as outlined in the Death Row Plan. (See attached plan)

Is there no discussion to remove the personal choice regarding the kind of spiritual guidance offered to Death Row Offenders?
No. There are not any plans under consideration to change the current spiritual guidance offered to Death Row Offenders. The proposed Board Rule on Death Row Visitation removes the language that caused this confusion. (See attached Board Rule)

Can visitation be suspended due to security reasons?
Yes. Visitation privileges can be removed or suspended for security reasons as outlined in the Denial of Visits/Visitors and Termination of Visits in Progress section of the Visitation Plan. (See attached plan)

If a problem or infraction occurs can a person be refused visits for 70 days?
See the response to question 15, for individual cases. The "70 day suspension" described in the proposed board rule is intended to apply to a situation, such as the Gurule escape, that justifies an across-the-board suspension of visitation. Since it is an exception to the board's rule, the board is required to either ratify or end the suspension, and the 70 day period is the maximum amount of time between two meetings. (See attached Board Rule)

Will only news media that is favorable to TDCJ be allowed to visit Death Row Offenders?
No. The proposed Board Rule on death Row visitation provides a clear definition of "News Media" and allows for consistent application of the policy. This definition is already applied in TDCJ's Media policy, and "unfavorable" stories such as the Nightline series on EStelle High Security have been aired under that policy. (See attached Board Rule)

What are the rules for visitation?
See attached Visitation Plan, which includes the rules for visitation.

How can we learn what is a procedure and what we should be working with?
TDCJ office of the General Counsel has already mailed to Ms. Gavin and Ms. Shorthouse an index to the Departmental Policy and Operations Manual and they have been invited to request policies of interest after reviewing that document. Other policies are provided as attachments to this response. Any further inquires may be addressed to the TDCJ Ombudsman Offices or the Office of the General Counsel.

How can TDCJ Administrative Directives be accessed?
See answer to question 19.

How can the Texas Register be accessed?
The Texas Register can be accessed through the internet at, through a subscription, university law libraries (most will have hard copies), and at local libraries with access to the internet.

Additional Information:

The TDCJ Ombudsman Offices provide information to the public in response to specific complaints regarding an offender or staff. The response may include general information about TDCJ and the agency's programs and policies, but only as they relate to the complaint. (see attached brochure)

Terrell Unit Profile, July 1998
TDCJ-ID Death Row Plan, March 1999
TDCJ-ID Visitation Plan, January 1999
Proposed Board Rule, Section 151.53 Death Row Visitation
TDCJ Ombudsman Office Brochure, July 1998