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Texas Prisons Urged to Reconsider Stance on Solitary Confinement

PHOTO: Saying it's unconstitutional and making things for dangerous for inmates and staff, a number of groups are asking the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to reconsider its policies surrounding solitary confinement. Photo credit: Jody Wilson
PHOTO: Saying it's unconstitutional and making things for dangerous for inmates and staff, a number of groups are asking the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to reconsider its policies surrounding solitary confinement. Photo credit: Jody Wilson
February 28, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas - The pressure is building on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to reconsider its stance on the use of solitary confinement as it makes revisions to the state's Death Row Plan.

A coalition of religious, mental health and justice groups across Texas say the segregation of inmates for long periods of time can cause or exacerbate mental health and psychological issues. That's something witnessed first-hand by former death row inmate Anthony Graves, who spent 16 years in solitary before he was exonerated.

"I witnessed guys hanging themselves in their cells with their sheets, cutting their wrists with their razors because conditions are so horrible," he said. "They don't get no kind of medical care. They become a danger to society as well as to the population down there because they're not getting any type of treatment."

The use of solitary confinement also appears to be making for a more dangerous environment for prison guards. According to the ACLU of Texas, as its use has grown, so have assaults on correctional staff, which have more than doubled in the past seven years.

At any given time, about 7,000 Texas inmates are in solitary, about one-third of them identified as having mental-health issues. Graves said he's helping to give them a voice and hopes others across the state will as well.

"Ask people that we elected to start serving us justice by reforming our system in a way that makes it fair for all of us," he said. "We need to all get involved to make this thing work the right way. That is by being a voice for those who can't stand up for themselves and sharing information with those who can make change."

The efforts to curb the use of solitary confinement also are ongoing nationally. The U.S. Senate just held a hearing on the matter this week, with testimony submitted by a number of local groups, including the ACLU of Texas and AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees.

Other coalition members include the National Alliance on Mental Illness Texas, Mental Health America of Texas, Texas Inmate Family Association, Catholic Pastoral Center-Diocese of Beaumont, Texas Impact, Texas Defender Service and Texas Civil Rights Project.

Research into solitary confinement is online at aclu.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX