Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ACLU alleges abuses on Terre Haute Death Row

Published: October 17, 2008 12:28 am

ACLU alleges abuses on Terre Haute Death Row

Group says prisoners denied medical care

By Brian M. Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — How the U.S. Penitentiary, Terre Haute treats its death-row inmates is at issue in a letter by the American Civil Liberties Union to Harley Lappin, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons.

According to the ACLU’s letter to Lappin, inmates in the Special Confinement Unit “are denied access to basic medical care, basic mental health care services, timely and adequate dental care and are subjected to incessant noise that causes sleep deprivation and psychological and physiological stress.”

Gabriel Eber, attorney for the National Prison Project, a division of the ACLU, said the letter sent to Lappin on Wednesday contains no ultimatums or deadlines.

“We’re hoping the Bureau [of Prisons] will work with us,” he said.

Traci Billingsley, chief public information officer for the Bureau of Prisons, said, “We can tell you that USP Terre Haute provides all appropriate and necessary medical, dental, and mental health care to all of the inmates confined at the facility. Of course, as we do with any complaint, the BOP will review the cases cited to ensure that we continue to provide quality care to all offenders.”

The SCU is home to more than 50 men living on federal death row.

Eber said the allegations in the ACLU letter about treatment of inmates are based on interviews with prisoners and an “extensive review of documents.”

According to the letter, ACLU officials claim a prisoner suffering a cardiac emergency spent 45 minutes pressing the call button in his cell before receiving a response, and it was five days before he received his first dose of prescription medication from a hospital cardiologist.

Eber said the ACLU’s goal is to “start a dialogue as soon as possible” with the BOP.

A copy of the ACLU's letter to Lappin can be found at

Billingsley said she could not comment on specific cases but noted that the instances will be looked into.

Brian Boyce can be reached at (812) 231-4253 or

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