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New Project Helps Families Visit Loved Ones in Federal Death Row

The Death Row Visitation Project was an attempt to make something good out of the 2020 execution spree that killed 12 men and one woman in the federal death chamber over the course of six months, reports The Intercept. The project covers costs for families so they can visit their loved ones on death row. It’s not unusual for people on death row to become estranged from their families. The stigma of a death sentence compounds the practical challenges of staying in touch. Phone calls, stamps, and emails get expensive quickly — and visits are often prohibitive. Men on federal death row are prohibited from receiving visits from anyone who did not know them prior to their convictions, a policy that stifles new relationships. “So many local people would visit if they could,” death penalty lawyer Margaret O’Donnell said. “The system is set up to fail human beings.”

The project was started by a group of activists -- Barbara Battista, Bill Breeden and O'Donnell. In June 2022, they sent a letter to everyone on federal death row announcing the Terre Haute Death Row Visitation Project, and were flooded with responses. Today, the burgeoning program has funded at least 18 visits for a quarter of the 40 men on federal death row. Applications are processed four times a year, with a small network of volunteers providing everything from airport rides to gift cards at local restaurants. With a shoestring budget sustained by small donations, has limited capacity, with each person having one funded visit a year. Eventually, they hope to provide more. While it cannot undo the psychic toll of living under a death sentence, the visitation program provides a critical lifeline for prisoners to feel more human.


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