Monday, August 21, 2006

Prison system backs off change on death-row visits

Look what happens when you complain, as did a group of European anti-death penalty activists. Congratulations to Sandrine Ageorges, who had started a petition asking the prison to reverse itself. See you at the march in October, Sandrine!

From The Houston Chronicle, Aug 21:

State prison officials reversed course today on restricting death row visitors who have traveled more than 300 miles to 1 special 8-hour visit per trip.

Special visits, which consist of 2 4-hour sessions on consecutive days,are permitted once a month. But long-distance travellers who arrive late in a month will be allowed to "piggyback" a 2nd visit early in the next month, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.

All such visits to the Polunksy Unit's death row in Livingston will be at the warden's discretion.

Lyons said TDCJ had made no systemwide policy change regarding long-distance visitors, but for about six weeks the warden at Polunsky had restricted special visits there to one per trip. That practice grew out of concern that some visitors, especially those from Europe, had abused department policy by establishing residences near the prison.

Lyons said prison officials will remain alert to signs that long-distance visitors have established residences in the area. Some had obtained local post office boxes and telephone numbers. At least one had planned to open a business.

Regular weekly visits consisting of 2-hour sessions are not affected.

Lyons said the earlier restrictions on multiple special visits had applied only to the Polunsky Unit.

The restriction on multiple visits had raised concerns among European death row activists, scores of whom visit condemned prisons in American prisons. Sandrine Ageorges, a French death penalty opponent, began circulating a petition opposing visiting restrictions.

Many foreign visitors, she said, could not afford to visit Texas for a single 8-hour visit. Shorter weekly visits, she contended, were insufficient to build rapport with inmates.

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