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South Jersey

Friday, November 22, 2002
Life grim for those on Death Row

By JASON LAUGHLIN
Courier-Post Staff

If sentenced to death, Rabbi Fred J. Neulander would begin his life on death row almost immediately, moving from a Freehold courthouse to Trenton State Prison.

There, his new home would be a 6-foot-by-12-foot cinder- block cell. His indoor recreation area would be what amounts to a large cage. He would see relatives only through a glass partition. And his social contacts would be the other 14 killers on death row.

New Jersey hasn't executed anyone since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1982, in part because of a system that affords prisoners many appeals and a liberal judiciary. The last execution was in 1963.

But waiting on death row is severe punishment itself: If sentenced to death by lethal injection, Neulander would live a mostly solitary existence in a wing where freedoms are few and routines more tightly regulated than in the general prison population.

Inmates in the Capital Sentence Unit on the prison's second floor, have no contact with other prisoners. They have their own outdoor recreation space, showers, and a cart bearing library books. The prison's general population can visit the library, spend extended hours outside and work. The inmates on death row are allowed none of these privileges.

Prison officials provided the following description of life in the Capital Sentence Unit:

Inmates are awakened at 6:30 a.m. and eat breakfast in their cells, where they also have their lunch and dinner. Meals are served on plastic plates and eaten with plastic utensils.

Personal decorations are not allowed in the cells. Metal bars are not used; the doors and walls are solid, and there is only one 2-by-3-foot window in each.

Each cell has a bed, steel sink and wall-mounted toilet. The only other furnishing is a table affixed to the wall.

The cinder-block walls are painted blue, white or gray. The floors are cement.

Inmates are allowed televisions, radios and an ice chest. They wear khaki pants with an elastic drawstring with a matching shirt or a T-shirt. The only personal effects allowed are watches and religious medals.

By 8:30 a.m., inmates are allowed to spend time in the recreation module. This is a cage without walls where inmates can play cards or do puzzles, but only two or three at a time. Inmates can visit the caged area during three other 90-minute increments during the day.

Every other day inmates can go outside for two hours. Again, only three inmates are allowed out of their cells at a time. The outdoor area, nestled deep within the walls of the prison, has a basketball court. The prisoners are not given access to weight-lifting equipment.

Lunch is served at 11 a.m. and dinner between 4 and 4:30 p. m. Inmates are allowed 15-minute showers each afternoon.

Inmates are locked in at 9 p.m., but they can leave their cell's florescent lights on as long as they want.

One day's routine is identical to the next. Only Fridays offer a change of pace. That day, inmates are required to clean their cells.

Communication with anyone other than their lawyers is severely limited. Inmates must sign up for the single phone designated for personal use, and calls can last only 20 minutes.

An inmate can have no more than two visits a month from immediate relatives. Visits are limited to one hour.

The only people inmates can meet without the glass partition are other inmates, prison personnel, clergy and lawyers.

When a death row inmate leaves the unit for any reason, he must wear both handcuffs and leg irons.

Neulander, who was once senior rabbi at Cherry Hill's Congregation M'kor Shalom, could request meetings with clergy. The prison chaplain also makes periodic visits. These visits would also take place in his cell.

Death row facts

-- Actual name: Capital Sentence Unit

-- Location: Trenton State Prison

-- Current occupants: 14

-- Longest tenure: Marko Bey, arrived 1983

-- Wake-up: 6:30 a.m.

-- Lights out: No official time

-- Non-attorney visits: two a month, no contact

-- Meals served: in cells

-- Indoor recreation area: caged space

-- Trips outside unit: handcuffs, leg irons required


Reach Jason Laughlin at (856) 486-2476 or jlaughlin@courierpostonline.com

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