Lawyer Presses For Death Row Inmates' Rights
Death row inmates claim they are being denied access to group religious services, group recreation, use of gym equipment and visits with friends and family, amounting to a violation of their constitutional rights, according to a letter sent to the Department of Correction on Thursday from an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer.
Additionally, the men say they are also denied the chance to send photographs of themselves to loved ones, as other inmates are allowed, or to walk unshackled during certain times, including to and from the shower, as are other inmates who are in the highest risk level.
The death row inmates are housed at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers.
Such conditions prompted the inmates to go on a hunger strike last May. "Officials have both verbally and in writing promised to secure certain privileges for the death row inmates in exchange for the cessation of the most recent hunger strike," wrote the lawyer, David McGuire. "A number of these promises have not been fulfilled."
Brian Garnett, Department of Correction spokesman, said he could not comment on the letter because he had not seen it. Garnett and department Commissioner Theresa Lantz attended a legislative hearing Thursday at the state Capitol on prison overcrowding that lasted more than 6 hours as of early evening.
A death row inmate was involved in a recent assault on a correction officer. On Feb. 14, Lazale Ashby, who was recently sentenced to death for raping and murdering a Hartford woman, struck a correction officer, according to correction officials.
While McGuire's letter does not address the Ashby incident directly, he said it is unreasonable for the department to punish all inmates for the bad acts of one. "Like any body of inmates, one should not be punished for the acts of another," he said, adding that the denial of the inmates' rights dates from before Ashby was sentenced to death row.
McGuire argues that it is unreasonable for the department to limit the inmates' privileges because of a 1998 suicide attempt by Michael Ross, who was executed in 2004, or because of a letter by inmate Daniel Webb plotting an escape attempt.
Both group recreation and the opportunity to eat in a common room with other death row inmates were revoked in 1998, according to the letter.
In addition to being denied religious services, inmates claim they were also told they could spend time once a week with a pastor, but those visits have not consistently been provided them, according to the letter. When the pastor is available, the inmates are denied face-to-face meetings and are forced to talk to him through their steel cell doors.
"It cannot be asserted that safety concerns justify the denial of access because religious service is provided sporadically, and without relation to inmate behavior," the letter states.