In an odd and unexplained rule change proposal, California may ban chaplains from meeting with death row prisoners nearer than three hours before their scheduled execution.

The California Department of Corrections (CDCR) is engaged in a detailed revision of its procedures for ending the lives of prisoners sentenced to death. The elaborate set of rules specifies in minute detail death drug formulation, testing, staff training, protocols and numerous other aspects of executions.

But one unexplained new provision would prohibit the doomed inmate from meeting with a chaplain in the last three hours before the scheduled execution.  

More than three hours ahead a chaplain could meet with the convict. But within three hours the religious counselor would be barred from being present with the person about to lose their life. The only possible contact during the prisoner’s last three hours might be by phone.

“In the previous protocols, the chaplain could stay until a few minutes before,” says Rev. George Horan, a Los Angeles priest.

But the proposed new rule changes that dramatically. The final three hours before death is “the time that the person needs them the most,” says Fr. Horan, adding that the new draft rule “defeats the purpose of spiritual advising.”  

Horan was chaplain at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles for 30 years. He still works with prisoners and is a leading figure in the restorative justice community.

“I know a lot of people on death row,” he says simply.

“When you (the state) are involved in pre-meditated murder, you are not thinking of the spiritual welfare of the person you are killing. It is not surprising that the CDCR would remove the last person who might bring some comfort, hope, and support to the person to be executed.”  

While the state has not explained why it wants to bar chaplains from personal contact with prisoners in the last three hours of their lives, the secrecy has raised speculation. Some say the state may not want to allow the personnel involved to be identified. The state might also be seeking to protect the identity of medical personnel involved in the killing, since the draft regulations say the members of the execution team will remain anonymous and that medical personnel will not be reported to their licensing agencies for taking part in an execution.

Full story at California Catholic Conference.