Day on Death Row

Day on Death Row
KUNA - Recently, 2 News explored the economics of the death penalty in Idaho, and whether it's becoming too costly for the state to keep capital punishment.

Now we’re showing you what it’s like to live and work on Idaho’s death row.

"When you walk into death row, you're on death row,” said Todd Sargent, officer with the Idaho Department of Correction. “All the inmates are under the sentence of death. There’s definitely a feeling of senses being heightened, and more alert."

Most of the officers know exactly why each inmate has been sentenced to death.

Richard Leavitt is facing a death sentence for stabbing and mutilating a woman in her home. David Card shot and killed two people in Canyon County. Erick Hall was convicted for raping and killing a woman along the Boise greenbelt.

That's the history of just three of Idaho’s 17 death row inmates.

Officer Angela Shelly wasn’t scared off by the inmates’ past. "My mom was a corrections officer,” says Shelly. “I was a stay at home mom for 10 years. I wanted to get a job and I don't like normal jobs, so this really intrigued me, because it's ever changing."

The inmates generally want to know a lot about the officers who oversee them. But how much an officer reveals depends on the officer. "I share very little,” says Sargent. “They want to know a lot, and they'll take as much as you'll tell them."

Sometimes the inmates ask questions of officers because they want a connection with someone. But others often ask for information that might be used later. “Inmates have threatened to come to my house saying 'I won't be in here forever,’” says Sargent. When 2 News asked Sargent if that worries him, he laughed it off, saying that’s why he has a gun at home.

Each day, each death row inmate gets two hot meals, and one cold meal. But unlike the general population, they eat in their cells.

Officer Juan Reyes says food issues are one of the big complaints among death row inmates.

“They have to get certain portions,” says Reyes. “They will complain if their portions are not correct. A lot of them know exactly what they're supposed to get so you will have a few complaints."

Death row inmates are kept in their cells 23 hours a day, and only let out for an hour of exercise. The only other time they leave is to be escorted to the shower, or if they have appointments with attorneys or doctors. Before a death row inmate is let out, they're handcuffed through the door's utility port.

A typical cell is about 12 feet long by seven feet wide and includes a shelf, coaxial cable for television, electrical outlets for fans and hot pots, and a narrow window.

Outside maximum security, the current execution chamber is literally a mobile home. But Idaho Department of Correction officials say it's likely a new facility will be built before the next inmate is put to death.

Lethal injection is the form of execution in Idaho.

The option of the firing squad was overturned recently. Idaho has only put one inmate to death since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970's. No date has been set for the next execution.

For the officers, a good day working death row is when everything goes as scheduled. But you might be surprised at what constitutes a bad day.

“The hardest part of the job is just getting the paperwork done,” says Shelly. “That’s the hardest part."

But once you see their job first hand, you quickly learn an officer does much more than simply guard inmates. “You're a babysitter, a parent, a mother, a father, a therapist,” says Sargent. “There's a multitude of roles you can go through every day."

And believe it or not, like many jobs, it's hard to say goodbye. Officer Reyes has been with the Idaho Department of Correction for 24 years. He can retire in December 2010, but still hasn't decided exactly when he wants to call it quits.