North Texas Daily

It’s time to put an end to Solitary Confinement

It’s time to put an end to Solitary Confinement

It’s time to put an end to Solitary Confinement
February 17
15:00 2023

In a single occupancy cell, days blur into months or even years, with little to no human contact except for the hand that feeds you. This is the life of thousands of inmates across Texas prisons who are in solitary confinement — inmates who, despite their mistakes, still deserve rights.        

Solitary confinement is an inhumane practice with harmful psychological and physical effects. It should only be used for specific cases, such as when an inmate is particularly aggressive or threatens other individuals. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice needs to change its solitary confinement policy and prohibit indefinite, long-term stays.

The TDCJ manages all state prisons, jails and any private correctional facility contracted with them. In their September 2022 Biennial Reentry and Reintegration Services Report, the TDCJ reported 121,102 incarcerated individuals within their facilities. Texan prisons currently hold 3,141 prisoners in solitary confinement, 500 of which have been there for at least a decade, according to The Texas Tribune. In solitary confinement, which the TDCJ calls restricted housing or security detention, inmates spend around 22-24 hours a day alone in a cell the size of a parking space. 

Texan solitary confinement cells are devoid of virtually any educational or environmental stimuli, with a limited number of books and little access to consistent recreational activities, mental health resources or adequate healthcare, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Proponents of solitary confinement say it’s needed to curb the threat of gang violence and to keep prisons safe. While prison gangs are dangerous and can cause violence in prisons, solitary confinement is a human rights violation. In regard to solitary confinement, the United Nations says it should only be used in exceptional circumstances and for the shortest time possible.  Juan E. Mendez, a special rapporteur at the United Nations, stated Solitary Confinement “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment.” Mendez also cited that solitary confinement for more than 15 days should be absolutely prohibited due to the mental damage extensive isolation causes. 

Long-term solitary confinement can produce a wide range of symptoms, such as visual and auditory hallucinations, hypersensitivity, insomnia, paranoia, increased risk of suicide and PTSD, according to PBS.

In the Texas Prison system, inmates are placed in solitary confinement based on status and behavior. Anyone who prison officials identify as a prison gang member can be thrown into isolation, even if they have no behavioral issues on record.  

On Jan. 10, over 300 men in prisons across Texas began a hunger strike, protesting the state’s harsh solitary confinement practices. Arguing for the state to change its policy and only put individuals in solitary for behavior, not status. The proposal mirrors one from prisoners in California who launched a two-month hunger strike, which after years of battle in court, ended with California agreeing to no longer place people in solitary based on gang status alone. 

While the recent Texas hunger strike only lasted three weeks, it shows how necessary policy change is. Inmates are put in solitary confinement for years just because of a status label. For example, there’s no reentry program into the general prison population for confirmed gang members, according to The Tribune

Texas should change its policy to only put people in solitary confinement for serious rule violations that occur within the prison, not before their sentencing. At the same time, prisons must avoid indefinitely placing inmates in solitary confinement and instead create guidelines and timelines for people to be released into the general prison population. 

 Jose Guadalupe Lucio is a Texas inmate who told The Tribune he has been in solitary confinement for 15 out of the 17 years he has been imprisoned. Lucio’s recounted his first-hand experience seeing fellow inmates in solitary confinement enduring circumstances so inhumane that they drove them to suicide, a situation prison guards are aware of. Lucio described the conditions as a “psych patient making factory.” 

The fact that we allow solitary confinement is disgusting, and one day, future generations will judge us for our treatment of imprisoned individuals. This is about treating people not like slaves or animals but as humans. Prisons should be places of rehabilitation first and punishment second, and that starts with changing the policy around solitary confinement.

Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Alfred Dozier

Alfred Dozier

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