WETHERSFIELD, Conn. (AP) - Conditions on Connecticut’s death row remain unchanged more than four months after the state Supreme Court found the death penalty unconstitutional.
Defense attorneys predicted after the August ruling that the 11 inmates housed on death row at Northern Correctional Institution would be reclassified and join the general prison population.
But prosecutors are hoping to overturn the Supreme Court ruling when they argue another death penalty appeal in January. They have also said that under a revised statute passed in 2012 they believe death row inmates must remain segregated, even though they no longer face execution.
Correction Commissioner Scott Semple said last week that he is unsure what he can or should do with those inmates until those issues are resolved.
“I’m currently interacting with legal folks to figure that out,” he said.
The 2012 statute replaced what had been known as “capital felony” with a new crime, “murder with special circumstances.” Under the new law, anyone who is convicted of what would have previously been a death penalty eligible crime is now sentenced to life in prison under conditions mimicking death row.
It also says that any inmate whose death sentence is commuted “must be placed in administrative segregation” until they are reclassified by the department. After that, they can remain in segregation, be placed in protective custody, or be placed in a housing unit for the maximum-security population under specified confinement conditions.
Those include having all movements escorted or monitored; moving to a new cell at least every 90 days; having a cell search at least twice each week; being prohibited from having physical contact during social visits; having work assignments only in the housing unit; and being limited to no more than two hours of recreation per day.
Currently, death row inmates also are placed in restraints when moving outside that cell. The two hours considered recreation are typically spent indoors, in an area that houses a law library and a phone. The other is spent alone in a cage outside in a courtyard. There is also no physical contact with other inmates.
David McGuire, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said the commissioner has been placed in a difficult situation but does have the authority to change some death row conditions, including allowing religious services and more access to the library.
“There is really no telling how long this state of limbo will continue,” he said.
Defense attorneys also point out that the Supreme Court did not commute anyone’s death sentence, it declared the death penalty itself unconstitutional. They are asking for new sentencing hearings.
Semple said in the meantime he is investigating whether it is still necessary to place death row inmates in restraints every time they leave their cells. That condition was instituted in 2010 after death row inmate Daniel Webb attacked a guard with a spray bottle filled with urine, feces and hot sauce.
“I want to change that policy,” Semple said. “Right now that’s all I’m working on and waiting on some direction, waiting to see how people are assessing what our obligations are.”
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