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A look at day-to-day death row operations.

In Florida, as in other states, executions are often high-profile events that receive national media coverage and generate a great deal of interest and discussion. Less is known, however, about the day-to-day operation of the state's death row unit.

Since 1979, 29 offenders have been executed in Florida. Another 331 currently sit on the state's death row. The 326 men on death row are housed at Florida State Prison in Starke and at Union Correctional Institution in neighboring Raiford. The five women sentenced to death are housed at Broward Correctional Institution, located in Pembroke Pines. The average length of stay on death row is nine years.

Movement within the deadth row units is limited. Inmates are served meals inside their cells. When outside their cells - except when showering or exercising in the yard - they must wear handcuffs and must be accompanied by an escort officer.

The inmates use the exercise yard twice a week for a total of about four hours. Thirty-four inmates are permitted in the yard at a time, and there they can play basketball, volleyball and handball. Because they are considered high escape risks, death row inmates are not permitted to mingle with those in the general population and must use a separate exercise yard.

Staff perform inmate counts in the death row unit at least once an hour, compared with six times daily for the general population. The higher number of counts is required for two reasons: to provide greater security against escape attempts and to allow death row inmates a greater opportunity to communicate with staff. Human contact in the unit is considered extremely important because the inmates spend much of the day in isolation.

Inmates are permitted visitors every Saturday or Sunday. A security check is conducted on all prospective visitors to ensure they do not have a prior criminal record that indicates a security risk. Most inmates on death row have at least one visitor who maintains visiting privileges - usually a parent, spouse, child or other family member. Unless an inmate is in a special security status or has an active death warrant, the visits are contact visits.

Inmates may have a limited number of magazine subscriptions and are permitted to have cigarettes, snacks, a black-and white television set and a radio in their cells. The televisions are paid for through the inmate welfare fund and do not receive cable stations.

Inmates can view church services for various denominations on closed circuit television as they are conducted for the general population in the institution's chapel. In addition, inmates can tune in to a weekly Bible study class and may receive visits from chaplains in their cells.

In addition to spiritual counseling, inmates have access to psychological staff for help in handling stress, depression, family problems or other mental health problems.

To accommodate death row inmates' need for access to legal resources, the DOC provides a law library and law clerks to help research and interpret legal documents. Inmates must request the material and have it delivered to their cells. In addition, meetings with private attorneys are arranged by scheduled appointments.

Staffing Death Row

Both Florida State Prison and Union Correctional Institution are maximum security institutions. All staff at these facilities are trained in skills needed for both the death row and general population units, and they rotate positions throughout the prisons. Training includes suicide prevention, medical emergency preparedness, and adherence to policy and procedure.

Officers selected to participate in executions are volunteers. If they feel they need counseling after participating in an execution, they can get help through the department's employee assistance program.

The Execution

When the governor signs a death warrant, the prison superintendent reads the warrant to the condemned inmate. The inmate then is taken from the death row cell to the death watch cell. Final preparation for the execution begins five days prior to the week of the scheduled execution. At this time, the condemned inmate and the administrative staff review the inmate's wishes for disposal of personal property, visits, last meal and disposition of the body.

Executions usually are scheduled for 7 a.m. so as not to disrupt the institution's routine operation and to ensure the availability of the DOC secretary and the governor's staff before regular office hours.

The morning of the execution, the inmate is served a final meal and is showered. Because the method of execution in Florida is electrocution, staff must shave the inmate's head and leg. The inmate is allowed a chaplain visit before being led down the hall to the execution chamber.

The assistant superintendent for operations and the chief correctional officer escort the inmate to the chamber. The superintendent leads the inmate into the chamber, where the maintenance superintendent and an electrician secure the straps around the head, chest, arms and leg. The inmate is given an opportunity to make a final statement or read a prepared one before having the head gear put on.

The prison superintendent indicates to the executioner that the execution is to proceed. The executioner, an anonymous citizen hired by the Department of Corrections, is paid $150 per execution. He or she pulls a switch to activate the electrical equipment. The electrocution cycle lasts two minutes or less. A physician then verifies the inmate's death.

Twelve volunteer citizen witnesses and 12 media representatives are present in the viewing room at the execution. They are escorted into the room by two correctional officers, and a public information officer is available to assist them. The superintendent and assistant superintendent are also available to respond to reporters' inquiries.

Media representatives are selected from a pool of credentialed reporters and are required to provide information to all media representatives who are not able to attend.

In addition to the media attention, a contingent of supporters and opponents of the death penalty usually gather across the street to demonstrate and hold vigils before and during the execution. Local law enforcement are on hand to maintain order.

The DOC makes every effort to maintain the orderly operation of the institution during the day of an execution, relying to a large degree on the staff's professionalism.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Flack, Kerry
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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