- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2011

RICHMOND — Jerry Jackson wants to see his friends before he is executed, possibly later this year.

Thomas Porter wants to hug his mother and wife.

Some inmates on Virginia’s death row are asking the Department of Corrections to change its policy so they can have contact visits with their family and friends. The visits were banned in 2008 amid concerns outsiders could smuggle cell phones or other contraband to the men on death row, who now number 11.

All death row visits are done in booths separated by a glass partition, with both parties speaking through telephones.

“I have never stated that I don’t deserve to be in prison. I took a life, so I deserve to be in prison,” said Porter, who was sentenced to death for killing Norfolk Police Officer Stanley Reaves in 2005. “But it’s making my family a victim.”

The department allows visits from family members, but friends and others are prohibited. Jackson wants to see three longtime female friends before he is executed for raping and murdering 88-year-old Ruth Phillips in 2001.

“I just want to see them one last time just to thank them for being there for me,” Jackson said of his friends.

Of the nation’s 34 death penalty states, Virginia and 22 others allow only visits through glass partition while 10 allow visits in the same room where offenders and visitors can touch. In Ohio, visitors are separated by glass, but there is a slot that allows inmates and visitors to hold hands.

Both Jackson and Porter, who talked to the AP via telephone, have asked officials for expanded visits. Jackson said he and others asked department director Harold Clarke, who took over the agency in November, to change the policy when he visited death row a few months ago, but nothing changed. Inmates’ family members also have asked the department to change the policy.

“Director Clarke is aware of this issue and understands the concerns of the inmates,” department spokesman Larry Traylor said.

Mr. Traylor said the policy allows inmates to request a contact visit, which is to be viewed on a case-by-case basis. Since 2008, a handful of inmates have done so but none have been granted, he said.

Jackson and Porter complained that no rules were broken by death row inmates that resulted in the policy change. Yet they say there have been instances in which general population inmates received contraband during contact visits, but the visits weren’t taken away for all general population offenders.

Mr. Traylor said the policy is meant to avoid the issues on death row before they occur. He pointed to instances in Texas, where several cell phones were confiscated from death row inmates in 2008.

One of them was taken from a condemned inmate who made threatening calls to a legislator.

“It comes down to illegal contraband such as cell phones, weapons, drugs, etc. entering the secure environment,” he said. “This policy completely eliminates that possibility.”

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