Life and death on the “dog unit”

By: Erica Hahn

After attending the recent annual convention of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, it became abundantly clear that various chapters have raised the level of discourse in their respective states. However, in a room full of over 100 abolitionists from around the country, no one was discussing the federal death row unit.

In this age of the Texecutioner and his right-hand assassin John Ashcroft in the national spotlight, continuously promoting their “Patriot” propaganda, we must not forget about the 23 men currently incarcerated at the federal level.

Before 1990, federal inmates were housed and executed in the state in which they received their death sentence. In 1990, the Federal Bureau of Prisons converted an old cellblock in Terre Haute, Ind., into a new facility for condemned federal prisoners. The inmates refer to this cellblock as the “dog unit.”

There were no federal executions performed from 1963 until Timothy McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001. Juan Garza was actually scheduled to be executed by the federal government before McVeigh, on December 12, 2000. However, based on a Justice Department study finding “racial and geographic” disparities in the way that capital cases were prosecuted, President Clinton granted Garza a six-month stay, allowing for the completion of the study.

Ironically, only five days before the first federal execution in 38 years, a follow-up report under the direction of Attorney General John Ashcroft was released. This second report found no “racial and geographic” bias in federal prosecutions. But the fact is, of the 23 men on federal death row, 17 (74 percent) are minorities and six (26 percent) are white. In terms of geography, 18 (78 percent) of the 23 cases were prosecuted in only three federal circuits. What is that old adage? If it smells like “racial and geographic” bias, it must be…

On George W. Bush’s watch, three federal prisoners have been executed by lethal injection. It is time to raise the level of outcry for a moratorium on a national level.

For more information on the Federal Death Row Unit please visit

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