Ohio death row inmates face new restrictions

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio prisons department will conduct strip searches, limit visitation and regularly search the cells of inmates with pending executions under procedures developed in response to the overdose of a death row inmate two days before his planned lethal injection.

The changes were recommended after investigations into the March 7 prescription-drug overdose of Lawrence Reynolds Jr., leading to a weeklong delay of his lethal injection. Prisons director Ernie Moore this week ordered that they be implemented, with a target date of April 16.

Other pending changes include switching inmates with execution dates to liquid forms of their medications when available and requiring all inmates to drink something after being given pills.

Investigators said it’s likely Reynolds hid and stockpiled antidepressant tablets he was administered daily and that he may have received additional doses from another inmate. Reynolds told investigators he took as many as 30 of the pills, and reports say he had five-times the lethal limit of the drug in his system.

The changes will initially apply at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, which houses most of the state’s death row inmates, including seven who have executions scheduled for dates ranging through Oct. 6.

Under the switch, an inmate is to be moved to a separate, more restricted area of the prison’s death row when the Ohio Supreme Court sets his execution date, an increase from the three days inmates are currently separately. Restrictions on inmates will further increase 30 days before the execution date, and inmates will be under a “constant watch” during their final three days at the penitentiary.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Ohio Public Defender’s office intend to review the revisions, with both having initial concerns that inmates will be isolated right before their deaths. ACLU of Ohio staff counsel Carrie Davis also said inmates could be held under heightened confinement for a lengthy period because execution dates are often scheduled several months in advance or repeatedly rescheduled.

“There are certainly concerns about some of the proposals they have,” Davis said. “While prisoners don’t have the same rights as people on the outside, they still do have some rights.”

Prisons spokeswoman Julie Walburn said inmates are aware changes are taking place.

“We are handling notification in a way that does not compromise security and ensures that we can properly manage the inmate population on death row,” she said. “The inmates have stated that they were not surprised that changes are taking place given inmate Reynolds’ actions.”

The investigation notes that the procedures used for Reynolds did not include “close or constant watch” and were focused on “ensuring that the inmate remains as calm as possible in the days leading up to his transfer” to the southern Ohio prison where executions are held.

The new procedures add a complete search of the inmate’s possessions when moved to the restricted area, a weekly search of cells in the section and strip searches of inmates upon return to the area if they leave for visits or any other reason.

“Inmates were searched periodically and randomly, under existing policy guidelines,” Walburn said. “They were not searched at the start of the 72-hour watch period, as this was simply viewed as a housing unit change, rather than a security status change.”

Inmates moved to the area are to have “limited and supervised” contact with inmates not assigned to the area, and only non-contact visits once they have met with family members in the final days before execution.

Reynolds, who was executed March 16, had visits from eight inmates while he was on three-day observation, one of whom was prescribed the same antidepressant, investigation reports show. Walburn said his meetings with other death row inmates did not involve contact