VA death row inmates can now get hugs, play basketball

VA death row inmates can now get hugs, play basketball

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT/AP) - Prisoners will now be able to give their family members hugs and play basketball while they await their execution in Virginia.

Virginia officials are now giving new privileges to death row inmates, including recreation time and closer visits with relatives, reports the AP.

The changes come as a lawsuit filed by several death row inmates over conditions makes its way through the court system. One of those suing is Ricky Gray, who was convicted in connection with the deaths of seven Richmonders nearly 10 years ago.

The inmates claimed they are kept in solitary confinement for the majority of the day. Gray is only occasionally allowed out of his cell to cut the hair of other inmates, according to the lawsuit. They also claim the one hour of outdoor recreation they receive five days a week is insufficient, because they are not allowed to use exercise equipment, not allowed in the gym or prison yard, nor given exercise equipment to use in the pod. They are also allowed out of their cell for a 10-minute shower three days a week and can purchase a TV and CD player, as well as request books from the library, according to the lawsuit.

Under the new guidelines, the death row inmates will get an extra half-hour of recreation each day. Officials are building a new recreation yard with a basketball court and exercise equipment, according to the AP. They can also reportedly hug and hold hands with family members when they visit, where previously a sheet of glass separated them from visiting relatives.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has said conditions for the inmates are now "significantly more progressive than the norm among other states with capital punishment." The lawsuit filed by Gray and four other death row inmates against the Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections and the warden of the Sussex State Prison is still pending.

Gray, with the help of Ray Dandridge, murdered Bryan and Kathryn Harvey and their daughters, Ruby and Stella, then set fire to their Woodland Heights home. A week later, the pair also murdered Percyell Tucker his wife, Mary, and their daughter, Ashley Baskerville. Baskerville was an accomplice in the Harveys' murder. Gray was sentenced to death for the murders and remains on death row pending an appeal.

Dandridge was sentenced to life in prison.

he inmates also complain about being barred from vocational, educational,or behavioral programming, and group religious services. They claim the treatment is unconstitutional.

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