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Former head of Oregon prisons wants to witness dismantling of the death chamber

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Frank Thompson
Frank Thompson served as the Superintendent of Prisons in Oregon from 1994 to 1998. He currently serves on the board of directors of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Death Penalty Action.

Reacting to Governor Kate Brown’s commutation of all death row sentences, the man who oversaw Oregon’s last two executions– wants to witness the dismantling of the death chamber he built.

In the mid-1990’s, Oregon Superintendent of Prisons, Frank Thompson, was charged with constructing the room where convicted people would die by lethal injection. At the time he supported the death penalty, but says the task was daunting.

Frank Thompson 1995.jpg
Frank Thompson
When Frank Thompson assumed the position of Superintendent of Oregon's State Penitentiary in Salem in 1994, he was tasked with creating an execution program. He supported the death penalty then. By the time he had overseen the building of a death chamber and the last two executions in the state, he had changed his mind.

“I had to identify the person who would administer the lethal drugs in the state of Oregon. Can you imagine trying to find out who would be willing to do it?”

Thompson’s position began to change in 1996 when he saw the heavy impact the execution program had on his staff. The last person put to death in Oregon was under his watch in 1997. He left the position the next year.

Thompson is now 79 years old and wants the death penalty repealed. And as for the execution chamber he had built in the state penitentiary? “I would love to be a part of its dismantling.”

"The Death Penalty is simply a bad public policy on many levels. It does a disservice to everyone it touches, including the state workers in our corrections department whose job it is to carry out executions. No employee of the state should have to take on the burdens that come with killing a defenseless human being.

Frank Thompson was recently part of an NPR story on the toll execution programs take on prison staff and others.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.