The U.S. Bureau of Prisons recently designated the U.S. penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, as the facility at which prisoners sentenced to death by the federal courts will be housed until they are executed by lethal injection. The federal government has never previously maintained a death row. Federal executions were formerly carried out at state facilities, the official murder of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in Sing Sing, New York, in 1953, being a case in point. The last federal execution was in 1962 in Iowa. There are currently five prisoners under federal sentence of death, all pursuant to the drug kingpin law.
USP Terre Haute staff have been moving rapidly to implement the death designation. D unit, a block at the west end of the prison with approximately 60 double cells has been emptied and is being modified to serve as death row. Associate Warden Bledsoe opined that we would "see something in six to nine months." When asked why such a large unit was necessary with only five federal death sentences outstanding, Associate Warden Edenfield said they were just planning for the future. Warden Keohane claimed the death row had been imposed upon Terre Haute rather than solicited by him as a source of revenue and notoriety. The decision to establish a federal deathhouse could only have emanated from Clinton's Oval office, given it's unprecedented nature. Keohane characterized the project as a humanitarian one intended to prevent prospective federal execution victims from being exposed to possibly substandard conditions on state death rows. Such solicitude!
Prisoners awaiting execution will be housed in the former D block, but the actual murder will be perpetrated in a facility to be built outside and connected to the block by a tunnel through or under the perimeter fence. The unit will purportedly be operated by an entirely separate staff that will not work the "mainline" pursuant to the regular quarterly staff rotations. Whether the killing ground will include a separate SORT (Special Operations Response Team) squad to drag out prisoners reluctant to die is unclear. USP Terre Haute security is already being beefed up in the wake of the designation with three new gun towers under construction.
No one who knows will say why Terre Haute was selected for this ultimate in official violation of human rights. Rumor is that the choice was narrowed to this joint and USP Leavanworth and Terre Haute won because Indiana is a more steadfastly death penalty state. Verily, a local media poll found that 93% of locals were okay with having the federal murder mill here, a number that seems even higher than among the swine. Speculations that the lockdown dungeon at Marion or the one being built at Florence, Colorado, were not selected for the function because they already take enough heat for human rights abuses and doing official killing elsewhere would perhaps divert and at least not increase it. It would also likely have been difficult and time consuming to push an appropriations bill for a stand alone death prison through congress.
With great fanfare, president Clinton announced his new crime plan on August 10, 1993, at the White House. A centerpiece of the package is an expansion to 47 of the crimes for which one may receive a federal death penalty. Included also are limitations on the appeals available to persons under sentence of death. Given Clinton's propensity to kill for power demonstrated by his presidential campaign executions as governor of Arkansas, the establishment of a federal death row can only be an ominous development. With appeal limitations it is likely that Clinton will have at least a handful of victims to sacrifice on the alter of the public opinion polls by the `96 election run off. With them he will inaugurate a reign of full service federal repression.
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