Church of the Brethren
Rachel Gross, Director
P.O. Box 600
Liberty Mills, IN 46946


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DRSP News, Issue 20, January 2018

By Tara Collum

The Death Penalty in the News

2017 was a difficult year for the death penalty in the US. While many states are turning away from the practice, a few outlier states proved to be an exception. Some of the most tragic cases of the year included the infamous Arkansas executions to accommodate the impending expiration of lethal injection drugs, and Virginia's execution of William Morva, an extremely mentally ill young man.

Any execution that takes place does so under increasing scrutiny both nation- and worldwide. We hope that the information in our newsletter will help you spark a dialogue within your family, friend circle, and community, and if you live in a death penalty state, we hope you can contribute to abolishment by sharing your concerns with local and state governments.

There are some promising things on the horizon, and some states have made extraordinary changes. Arizona has transformed the lives of many prisoners by ending mandatory segregation or solitary confinement for death row prisoners. The Associated Press reports the state recently ended the 20-year practice. No longer confined to their cells, death row inmates can interact with other prisoners in common areas, go outside, and participate in recreational activities. Prison officials say allowing prisoners to socialize makes the prison a safer place for both prisoners and staff.

Other states are taking cues from how other countries manage their prisons. The documentary "Breaking the Cycle" explores how Norway's Halden Prison is run, and contrasts it with the running of Attica in New York state. The warden of the Norway prison explains the progressive model of treating the prisoners not as criminals, but as people who have committed a crime. The civilized treatment centers around positive staff interaction, and a culture of dynamic safety that focuses on rehabilitation, reducing criminality, and helping prisoners re-enter society with productive skills. The Halden model believes that compassionate rehabilitation over punishment makes for safer communities.

A state prison in North Dakota revised their prison policies to create more humane conditions based on the Halden model. A prison staff member said that by shifting their perspective on how prisoners should be treated, they are making good neighbors, not good prisoners.

From the Mailbox

Speaking of being good neighbors, we received this information from Oklahoma death row prisoner Raymond Johnson: "EVERY person who gets here gets a care package from everyone because we all remember getting here with nothing." The care packages contain food, stamps and stationery, shower shoes, towels, and hygiene items all passed on from other death row prisoners.

We recently heard a similar thing from another prison. It's heartening to see this kindness extended by those whom society considers irredeemable.

And Other Acts of Kindness

A year ago, a DRSP correspondent in Australia was inspired to send a book to her pen pal. Barnes & Noble rewarded her purchase with a coupon, so she asked us if there was someone else on death row who might appreciate receiving a book. She has now sent books to 38 individuals! And she has two death row consultants who help her select the books. We are grateful for her creative thinking and generous spirit, which many DRSP correspondents exhibit in a variety of ways.

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