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Contact rule blamed for death row hunger strike

legislature 2000
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By WILLIAM YARDLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- More than 250 death row inmates at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford refused their daily eggs, toast and coffee Monday morning, apparently in protest of a proposed new rule that would end contact visits with friends and family.

By dinner, 168 inmates still had refused to eat.

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said he did not know why the inmates were not eating, but a Dunedin woman identifying herself as the fiancee of a death row inmate blamed proposed changes to death row visitation policy.

Carol DiNatale, who would not identify her fiance, said inmates began discussing a hunger strike last week, deciding Thursday that "we need to do something." DiNatale said the strike is intended to protest a plan by the Department of Corrections that would end contact visits for death row inmates.

Critics of the plan, which must undergo a public hearing before it can be approved, say it might backfire and make death row inmates dangerous by denying interaction with family members and their children. The promise of such interaction gives inmates an incentive to behave, critics say.

Corrections spokesman C.J. Drake said Monday that contact visits -- supervised meetings where inmates and visitors are allowed to exchange hugs and kisses -- are intended to encourage rehabilitation for prisoners.

"For death row inmates, what's the purpose?" he asked.

Drake said the no-contact plan, part of proposed changes that would limit death row inmates' ability to take showers, check out library books and interact with clergy, is intended to keep prison staff and visitors safe.

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