Oregon prison executive testified in Maryland death penalty repeal debate

Frank Thompson - former superintendent of the Oregon State Prison

March 15, 2013
Former superintendent of the Oregon State Prison (OSP), Frank Thompson, recently testified before both chambers of the Maryland legislature as they debated the repeal of the death penalty. Today the Maryland House voted to end that state’s death penalty in favor of life without parole for those convicted of aggravated murder. The House vote followed a 27-20 vote in favor or repeal by the Maryland Senate last week. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is said to be ready to sign the new legislation into law very soon, making Maryland the sixth state to repeal the death penalty in the past six years.

Thompson was in Maryland, representing corrections executives from across the nation providing testimony primarily on the concerns over the possible “future danger” of allowing those convicted of aggravated murder living in prison for life. The superintendent was in charge when Oregon carried out the only two executions in the past fifty years, in 1996 and 1997. His response to the concerns expressed by supporters of capital punishment included, “Every warden in America knows the established protocols that effectively keep prisons safe for corrections staff and inmates.
When violence takes place in a prison it is because of either human error or negligence in following these protocols or it is because there was insufficient funding in the system to fund known violence prevention tools”.

Oregon presently houses 37 people on its death row. Maryland has 5 men on their death row, four of them convicted 30 years ago. Mr. Thompson, in his testimony went on to say, “In Oregon, for those inmates that do present a profile for violent behavior, the institutional classification system serves as an effective guide for the best housing and supervision arrangements for these inmates to be assigned where any threats to security can be properly managed.”

According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, while 37 people are on death row, there are 137 people serving life sentences, without the possibility of parole and over 600 serving terms classified as “life” but with the possibility of parole after 30 years or 25 years. Addressing the “future danger” question, Mr. Thompson included in his testimony…..”Prisoners serving life without the possibility of parole are less likely, than other inmates who might be sentenced for violent crimes, to become involved in other violent behaviors. Put another way, according to available data, as a group, inmates released from death row to appropriate levels of security custody and general population, do not present a unique or increased risk.”

Frank Thompson currently serves on the volunteer board of directors for Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (OADP) and recently testified before the Oregon House Committee on Judiciary with similar comments. He is recognized nation-wide as a corrections professional advocating alternatives to the death penalty being a much superior public policy than the extremely costly death penalty system.

For more information contact OADP at (503) 990-7060.

Frank Thompson, former superintendent at OSP and the Oregon death row.

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