Penalty in USA
Elimination of visitation days at Texas Death Row
Changes to Death Row Visitation
May 20, 1999
Below are proposed changes to DEATH ROW VISITATION, as put forth by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)
The proposed changes will:
On Thursday, May 20, and Friday, May 21, 1999, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice is expected to approve the proposed changes to Death Row Visitation. After the Board approves the changes, it will accept WRITTEN COMMENTS from the general public for the next 30 days.
Then, at the Board's September 1999, meeting, the Death Row Visitation changes would go into effect.
It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT and VERY URGENT that concerned individuals work immediately to stop these proposed changes. Written comments objecting to the changes should be directed to:
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
P.O. Box 13084
Austin, Texas 78711
Be brief and specific. Specific objections to the proposed changes are:
1. PROPOSED CHANGE 152.53(b)(1) is ambiguous, discriminatory and arbitrary. It attempts to re-define "news media" to exclude any television news program and/or channel and/or print media publication TDCJ believes might run a story unfavorable to TDCJ. Limiting the definition of "news media" to exclude those media entities which TDCJ feels might be critical of TDCJ and/or its policies, its history, its employees, and/or its management, violates both the spirit and the rule of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
This proposed rule is so ambiguous and arbitrary, it could be cited to exclude respected news programs such as 20/20, Dateline, Prime Time Live, 48 Hours, and 60 Minutes - all of which have run programs investigating prison brutality, abusive guards, and/or the wrongfully convicted.
TDCJ's proposed rule is a weak attempt to control the way TDCJ is portrayed by the media and control the way death row inmates are portrayed to the public. If TDCJ can deny media entities access to death row inmates by deeming the entity as one "devoted primarily to advocacy purposes or to a particular point of view," then TDCJ can ensure that only negative media portrayals of death row inmates are released to the public at large.
There is no legitimate basis for this Rule. This Rule is a mean-spirited attempt to limit death row prisoners' access to those few media entities opposed to capital punishment, sympathetic to the wrongfully convicted, or interested in exposing abusive guards.
2. PROPOSED CHANGE 152.53(g) will deny death row in mates the right to choose their clergy individual. Instead, under this proposed rule, TDCJ would select the clergy individual for the death row inmate.
Under this Rule, TDCJ can deny minister visits from any legitimate clergy person not affiliated with TDCJ, on the grounds that TDCJ has already assigned a clergy individual to a death row inmate.
Selecting a spiritual advisor and/or clergy individual is an extremely personal choice.
If this proposed change is implemented, in all likelihood the current clergy individual/spiritual advisor will be refused access to the death row inmate and the death row inmate will instead be assigned a clergy individual/spiritual advisor of TDCJ's choice. There is no legitimate basis for this Rule.
There is no legitimate security interest for this Rule.
This Rule is a mean-spirited attempt to limit the access of a death row inmate to the clergy individual of the inmate's choice.
3. PROPOSED CHANGE 152.53(h) is a VERY DANGEROUS PROPOSITION.
The Board of Criminal Justice wants to give the Executive Director authority to suspend death row visitation (for security reasons) for up to 70 days, subject to Board ratification at the next regularly scheduled Board meeting. (The Board meets every 4 months.)
Under this rule, the Executive Director could repeatedly authorize suspension of death row visitation, for "security reasons." This rule is completely unnecessary.
As it stands now, TDCJ Wardens, Regional Directors, and the Executive Director himself have the authority to suspend visitation "for security reasons." The only reason for this proposed rule is to give TDCJ a tool to effectively terminate DEATH ROW VISITATION in its entirety, just as it has TERMINATED THE WORK PROGRAM MANDATED BY THE RUIZ COURT DECISION.
The "temporary suspension" of the work program is in its 6th month - with no end in sight. What will stop TDCJ from issuing continual (consecutive) 70-day suspensions for so-called security reasons, thereby effectively TERMINATING DEATH ROW VISITATION, as TDCJ has TERMINATED THE WORK PROGRAM?
REMINDER: IT IS URGENT TO ACT NOW. Concerned individuals have only 30 days, until June 20, 199, to contact TDCJ with public comments OPPOSING AND OBJECTING TO THE PROPOSED CHANGES.
Furthermore, if you have any complaints/comments about the Ellis Unit, death row conditions, abusive guards, lack of privacy when conducting attorney-client visits, mailroom problems, or any other issue related to death row, please put your complaint in writing and forward it to me at:
121 Clements Hall
Dallas, Texas 75275
I will be happy to pass it along to the appropriate group(s) working to eliminate such happenings.