Allan B. Polunsky Unit

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Allan B. Polunsky Unit
PolunskyUnitWestLivingstonTX.jpg
Location 3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, Texas 77351
Coordinates 30°41′55″N 95°00′53″W / 30.6985667°N 095.0147333°W / 30.6985667; -095.0147333
Status Operational
Security class G1-G5, Administrative Segregation, Death Row
Capacity 2,984
Opened November 1993
Managed by TDCJ Correctional Institutions Division
Warden Gary Hunter
County Polk County
Country US
Website www.tdcj.state.tx.us/unit_directory/tl.html
The State of Texas Death Row seal, taken at the Polunsky Unit

Allan B. Polunsky Unit (TL, formerly the Terrell Unit) is a prison in West Livingston, unincorporated Polk County, Texas, located approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) southwest of Livingston along Farm to Market Road 350.[1][2] The Texas Department of Criminal Justice operates the facility. The unit houses the State of Texas death row for men, and it has a maximum capacity of 2,900.[2] Livingston Municipal Airport is located on the other side of FM 350.[3] The unit, along the Big Thicket, is 60 miles (97 km) east of Huntsville.[4]

Polunsky was named after Allan B. Polunsky, a former chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice who is now the chairman of the Public Safety Commission, the governing board of the Texas Department of Public Safety.[5][6]

Polunsky houses Texas's "supermax" units[7] and is notable for being the location of Texas's death row for men (executions, though, are conducted at the Huntsville Unit in Huntsville).

History[edit]

The Terrell Unit opened in November 1993. At the time of its opening the public did not associate the prison with the death penalty, as the state's male death row inmates were housed at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville. In November 1998 Martin Gurule, a death row inmate in the Ellis Unit, escaped.[5] He drowned in a nearby creek[8] and his body was found a week later.[9]

After the incident occurred, the TDCJ considered moving the death row for men, and the Terrell Unit was the favored choice for the relocation.[10] According to the TDCJ, the prison escape attempt had hastened the agency's decision to move death row inmates to a new location.[9] TDCJ officials also stated that overcrowding at Ellis was another factor in the death row move.[11] Six months after the escape attempt, the TDCJ decided to move the death row.[12] The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty criticized the move of the death penalty, saying that the conditions of the prisoners were worse than those in their previous location. The Texas Board of Criminal Justice approved the relocation of the men's death row on Friday May 21, 1999.[11]

Polunsky took the death row inmates in 1999, with the first 55 inmates, all classified as being troublesome, occurred on Friday June 18, 1999.[13] The death row transfer, which took ten months, was the largest transfer of condemned prisoners in history and was performed under heavy security.[5]

In February 2000 two death row inmates took a 57-year-old female corrections officer hostage, forcing negotiations involving the warden.[14] One of the hostage-takers, Ponchai Wilkerson (TDCJ#999011[15]), was scheduled to be executed on March 14, 2000, and was, in fact, later executed on that date.[14][16] The other, Howard Guidry, had no scheduled execution date.[14] Guidry remains on death row.[17]

On May 9, 2000,[5] 33-year-old death row inmate Juan Salvez Soria (TDCJ#837[18]), who was scheduled to be executed on July 26, 2000, pulled the arm of 78-year-old William Paul Westbrook, a prison chaplain from Livingston, into his cell. The offender tied a sheet around the chaplain's arm and tied the other end to a toilet; Soria began cutting Westbrook's arm with a razor blade. The offender nearly tore Westbrook's arm off. The authorities used tear gas to stop the attack. Authorities treated Soria's former cell as a crime scene and moved Soria to a more restricted area within the prison.[19] Soria was executed on schedule.[16]

The Texas Board unanimously approved giving former Terrell Unit its current name, Allan B. Polunsky Unit,[20] on July 20, 2001. The board also voted to rename the Ramsey III Unit in Brazoria County, Texas to the Terrell Unit.[5] The former namesake, a Dallas insurance executive named Charles Terrell, requested the name change because he did not want his name associated with death row because of questions about the administration of the death penalty.[20] In addition he reportedly was ambivalent regarding capital punishment.[21] In exchange, the former Ramsey III Unit was renamed the Terrell Unit.[22]

In 2010, the TDCJ accused five men who were serving life sentences of attempting to break out of the unit.[23] Robert Perkinson, author of Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire, said in 2010 that Polunsky "probably" is "the hardest place to do time in Texas." Perkinson added that while the prison is not in a "gloomy" location and that the facility is not "dangerously dilapidated", the prison's "existential" "problem" is the fact that it is the state death row.[4]

In May 2013 Mother Jones magazine ranked Polunsky as one of the ten worst prisons in the US, based on Congressional testimony from former inmate Anthony Charles Graves (TDCJ Death Row#999127,[24] released due to overturning of conviction on September 7, 2006[25]) and research conducted by the magazine during a three-year period.[26][27]

As of 2014 the prison had 691 employees and 2,936 prisoners. As of that year there were 279 men on Polunsky's death row.[28]

Operations[edit]

The 584,000-square-foot (54,300 m2) facility has twenty-three buildings,[5] on 472 acres (191 ha) of land. The surrounding area includes fields and forests.[28] It has a capacity of about 3,900 prisoners.[11]

David Casstevens of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram described Polunsky as "a somber complex of putty-gray concrete buildings trimmed in blue on 470 fenced acres."[29] Miriam Rozen of the Houston Press said that the unit "sits amid the same kind of lush, green and hilly East Texas terrain that surrounds Governor Bush's lake house 100 miles to the north in Athens."[30] Marc Bookman of Mother Jones said that the prison "looks as one might imagine a death row would look—a series of imposing concrete structures surrounded by excessive razor wire and four guard towers."[31] Alex Hannaford of The Nation described it as a "bleak, foreboding complex".[28]

The Polunsky Unit was designed to house more problematic and dangerous inmates; the officials designed the unit to be more secure than the older TDCJ units. Throughout its history the unit housed administrative segregation offenders (offenders in solitary confinement due to chronic misbehavior or violence). The building housing death row inmates is separate from the rest of the compound. Polunsky has a kitchen, a medical treatment clinic, psych interview rooms, and classification office space.[5] Robert Perkinson, author of Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire, said that Polunsky, a white concrete building with blue steel supports, is "functionally designed and pleasantly asymmetrical" and that a person would mistake the building for a community college "if not for the three-inch window slits."[4]

Death row operations[edit]

As of March 2013 about 290 male death row prisoners are housed in Polunsky.[32] As of March 2013 eight are instead housed in Jester IV Unit, a psychiatric unit near Richmond, Texas.[32][33]

The death row prisoners reside in Building 12, a two-story facility which opened in 1993 to house administrative segregation prisoners in solitary confinement.[34] This building has three rectangular sections, and a recreational area, in the shape of the circle, is in the center of each section.[28] The death row offenders live in single person, 60-square-foot (5.6 m2) cells,[35] with each cell having a slit window and a concrete door. There is a "tempered air" system intended to keep inside temperatures at 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The death row buildings have a total of 504 cells. Prior to the relocation of the men's death row, prison authorities held non-death row "administrative segregation" prisoners in these cells. These prisoners were relocated when the men's death row changed locations.[13]

Death row offenders receive no programming and are not allowed to work.[36] Death row prisoners receive meals through bean slots, gates in the cell doors. Whenever an offender is taken from his cell, such as when the offender goes to take a shower, the offender is strip searched.[37] The offenders receive individual recreation in a caged area.[35][37] Depending on the custody level, death row offenders may be eligible for having radios.[35] Death row inmates wear white jumpsuits, and the death row uniforms have the letters "DR" in black on the backs.[37]

Perkinson said that the wait times that the offenders have before execution make the prison stressful for the inmates, visitors, and employees.[38] Jonathan Bruce Reed (TDCJ Death Row #642,[39] now TDJC#1743674 due to a reduction of the sentence to life imprisonment on November 3, 2011[25]), a death row offender, said that the mentality of the death row unit is "we keep you kenneled until your date."[36] Larry Todd, a spokesperson of the prison, said that "when a person walks on to death row, there is a sense of change. It's just a different atmosphere."[37]

During a US Judiciary hearing on solitary confinement, Anthony Graves, a former prisoner in the death row who was released in 2010, said that conditions were making prisoners lose their sanity. In 2013 James Ridgeway and Jean Casella of Mother Jones stated that "Some have been known to commit suicide or waive their appeals rather than continue living under such conditions."[40]

A 2012 book by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian discusses the Polunsky Unit. According to one passage: "Whenever a condemned prisoner goes anywhere outside his cell, he must back up to the door, drop to his knees, and extend his hands backward through the narrow slot to be handcuffed. Then he stands, turns around, and waits for the door to be opened. The whole process of dropping to the knees and extending the arms backward is particularly difficult and painful for the older convicts with arthritis."[41]

Jackson and Christian point out that the state laws for Texas, and most other states, do not lay out "the specific conditions under which condemned prisoners live."[42]

Polunsky in the media[edit]

Polunsky is a setting of the book Blow Fly by Patricia Cornwell.[43]

Notable inmates[edit]

Death row prisoners[edit]

All death row prisoners on this list are and were under death sentences given by the State of Texas.

Executed:

Awaiting execution:

Awaiting execution but moved out of Polunsky:

Commuted:

Non-death row[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "West Livingston CDP, Texas Archived June 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on May 9, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Polunsky Unit." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on January 27, 2012.
  3. ^ "Plane makes emergency landing near prison." Associated Press at The Victoria Advocate. Friday April 30, 2004. Local/State 7A. Retrieved on Google News (page 4 of 43), May 9, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Perkinson, Robert. Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire. First Edition. Metropolitan Books, 2010. p. 37; ISBN 978-0-8050-8069-8.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Turner Publishing Company, 2004. 103. ISBN 1-56311-964-1, ISBN 978-1-56311-964-4.
  6. ^ Public Safety Commission website. Texas Department of Public Safety. Retrieved on September 26, 2010.
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  8. ^ "http://lubbockonline.com/stories/120598/1205980016.shtml". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Lubbock Online. Retrieved March 30, 2012.  External link in |title= (help)
  9. ^ a b Staff and Wire Reports. "Death-row inmates take officer hostage Warden negotiates with prisoners". The Dallas Morning News. February 22, 2000. Retrieved on May 7, 2010. "He was later found dead near the prison, but his escape hastened the decision to house death-row inmates at Terrell Unit, prison officials have said."
  10. ^ Graczyk, Michael. "Texas considers move of death row". Associated Press at The Nevada Daily Mail. Sunday January 24, 1999. Page 10 Classifieds. Retrieved from Google News (page 6 of 81) on November 14, 2010.
  11. ^ a b c "Prison board OKs moving death row." Associated Press at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Saturday May 22, 1999. Retrieved on March 24, 2016.
  12. ^ "Prisoners at new Death Row unit face increased isolation Inmates caged 'like animals waiting for slaughter', activist says". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. February 28, 2000. 1 News. Retrieved on May 7, 2010.
  13. ^ a b "First condemned inmates moved to new death row near Livingston." Associated Press at Lubbock Journal-Avalanche. Saturday, June 19, 1999. Retrieved on March 24, 2016.
  14. ^ a b c Staff and Wire Reports. "Death-row inmates take officer hostage – warden negotiates with prisoners". The Dallas Morning News. February 22, 2000. Retrieved on May 7, 2010.
  15. ^ Ponchai Wilkerson profile at Texas Department of Criminal Justice website. Retrieved on January 27, 2012.
  16. ^ a b "Executed Offenders." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on January 27, 2012.
  17. ^ "Offenders on Death Row". Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on January 27, 2012.
  18. ^ Juan Salvez Soria profile at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website. Retrieved on January 27, 2012.
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  20. ^ a b Timms, Ed. "Terrell Unit is renamed". The Dallas Morning News. July 21, 2001. Retrieved on January 1, 2010.
  21. ^ "Terrell weary of death row link". San Antonio Express-News. July 15, 2001. Metro/South Texas 5B. Retrieved on January 1, 2010.
  22. ^ Timms, Ed. "Uneasy about death row, Terrell wants name off unit Prison expected to be renamed". The Dallas Morning News. July 14, 2001. Retrieved on May 9, 2010. "Another prison the Ramsey III unit in Brazoria County probably will be renamed for Mr Terrell."
  23. ^ Apodaca, Gene. "Three shot, two injured after attempted prison break". KTRK-TV. Saturday, January 30, 2010. Retrieved on May 12, 2010.
  24. ^ "Anthony Charles Graves." (Archive) Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on March 16, 2014.
  25. ^ a b "Offenders No Longer on Death Row" (Archived 2014-03-16 at WebCite) Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on March 16, 2014.
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  27. ^ http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/05/10-worst-prisons-america-allan-polunsky-unit-texas-death-row
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  32. ^ a b Grissom, Brandi. "Trouble in Mind." Texas Monthly. March 2013. Volume 41, Issue 3. p. 192
  33. ^ Grissom, Brandi. "Andre Thomas: Struggling to Maintain Sanity In Prison." Texas Tribune. February 25, 2013. p. 5. Retrieved on March 23, 2013. "Eight death row inmates, including Thomas, are now housed at the Jester IV unit in Richmond, one of three psychiatric facilities in the prison system."
  34. ^ Ward, Mike. "Prison officials propose limits to interviews on death row." Austin American-Statesman. June 9, 1999. B1. Retrieved on July 19, 2010. "On Tuesday, Texas reporters toured the Terrell Unit, soon to be death row's third home in 150 years. Building 12, a two-story, concrete-and-steel lockup designed with death row in mind when it was opened in 1993, has housed "administrative segregation" convicts – those whose chronic misbehavior or violence has earned them a place in solitary confinement."
  35. ^ a b c "Death Row Facts." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on January 27, 2012.
  36. ^ a b Perkinson, Robert. Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire. First Edition. Metropolitan Books, 2010. p. 39; ISBN 978-0-8050-8069-8.
  37. ^ a b c d e f Graczyk, Michael. "Connally escapee Rivas moves into new home on Texas' death row" (Archive). Associated Press at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Friday August 31, 2001. Retrieved on July 23, 2010.
  38. ^ Perkinson, Robert. Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire. First Edition. Metropolitan Books, 2010. p. 38; ISBN 978-0-8050-8069-8.
  39. ^ "Jonathan Bruce Reed." (Archive) Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on July 21, 2010.
  40. ^ Ridgeway, James and Jean Casella. "America's 10 Worst Prisons: Polunsky." Mother Jones. May 10, 2013. Retrieved on August 12. 2013.
  41. ^ Jackson, Bruce and Diane Christian. In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America, University of North Carolina Press, 2012, p. 171. ISBN 978-0-8078-3539-5
  42. ^ Jackson and Christian, p. 168.
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  86. ^ Stein, Joshua David. "Ewan McGregor: Filthy and Gorgeous." Out. Friday February 12, 2010. Retrieved on December 10, 2010. "[...] the two live lavishly until Russell gets caught and goes to prison for good (Escape, Case No. 9,856-C). Russell -- Inmate No. 00760259 -- has a maximum sentence that would keep him imprisoned until July 12, 2140 -- 47,595 days after the film opens."

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 30°41′56″N 95°00′51″W / 30.6989°N 95.0143°W / 30.6989; -95.0143