Texas Death Row Prisoners Sue State Over Solitary Confinement Policies

At least two dozen Texas prisoners are now in the third week of a hunger strike to protest the state's solitary confinement policies.[0] The inmates allege that the conditions of their confinement in isolation cells are unjustifiably severe, and that their placement in solitary is based solely on their sentence rather than any individual consideration of their crime or behavior.[1]

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) currently holds more than 3,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, including more than 500 who have been in isolation for more than 10 years and 138 for at least 20 years.[2] The TDCJ says the practice is used to quell gang activity within prisons, and is reserved for “confirmed members of the most organized and dangerous prisons gangs, inmates who are escape risks, and inmates who committed assaults or multiple other serious disciplinary offenses.[3][4]

The strike began on Jan. 10, with more than 70 prisoners participating.[2] Since then, the number has fallen to 24, with 40% of the remaining strikers participating all 13 days.[2] Inmates contend that the reforms they have asked for will give them the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves prior to being released into the public.[1]

Back in 2011, the UN proclaimed that solitary confinement is a form of torture.[5] The World Health Organization, the Association of Correctional Administrators, the American Bar Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union all followed suit after the initial organization.[5] The inmates' main demand is to replace the current Texas policy of putting prisoners into solitary confinement based on supposed gang affiliation with a “behavioral based system to address the behavior of individuals—only those who engage in serious rule violations should be placed in restrictive housing.”[6]

It is astonishing to discover that approximately 500 prisoners have been in solitary confinement for over ten years.[6] Former Justice Anthony Kennedy said in 2015 at Harvard Law School, [4]It drives men mad.[4] In the same year, a concurring opinion was issued.[4] he wrote, [4]Years on end of near total isolation exact a terrible price … common side effects of solitary confinement include anxiety, panic, withdrawal, hallucinations, self-mutilation and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.[4]

The Texas death row prisoners are suing the state, arguing it’s unconstitutional to hold them in solitary confinement for the entirety of their metered lives with minimal health care, no regard for their mental suffering and few avenues to seek legal help.[8]

0. “Texas death row inmates sue state over ‘brutal’ solitary confinement conditions” The Guardian US, 27 Jan. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jan/27/texas-death-row-inmates-sue-state-solitary-confinement

1. “Texas Prisoners Go Into Week 3 of Hunger Strike Against Solitary Confinement” Brownwood News, 27 Jan. 2023, https://www.brownwoodnews.com/2023/01/27/texas-prisoners-go-into-week-3-of-hunger-strike-against-solitary-confinement

2. “Texas prisoners entering third week of hunger strike against solitary confinement” KXAN.com, 24 Jan. 2023, https://www.kxan.com/news/texas/texas-prisoners-entering-third-week-of-hunger-strike-against-solitary-confinement/

3. “Texas death row inmates sue state over mandatory solitary confinement” WGMD Radio, 27 Jan. 2023, https://www.wgmd.com/texas-death-row-inmates-sue-state-over-mandatory-solitary-confinement

4. “Solitary confinement is torture and needs reform (Opinion)” Houston Chronicle, 24 Jan. 2023, https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/letters/article/prison-jail-solitary-punishment-reform-inmates-17736145.php

5. “Torture by any other name” Chicago Reader, 26 Jan. 2023, https://chicagoreader.com/columns-opinion/on-prisons/ehlers-solitary-is-torture/

6. “Texas prisoners on hunger strike against solitary confinement” WSWS, 23 Jan. 2023, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2023/01/23/ojke-j23.html

7. “Texas death row prisoners spend decades in solitary confinement. A lawsuit wants to end that “cruel” treatment.” KPRC Click2Houston, 26 Jan. 2023, https://www.click2houston.com/news/texas/2023/01/26/texas-death-row-prisoners-spend-decades-in-solitary-confinement-a-lawsuit-wants-to-end-that-cruel-treatment/

8. “Hogan Lovells Challenges Texas Prisons Blanket Solitary Confinement Policy | Texas Lawyer” Law.com, 26 Jan. 2023, https://www.law.com/texaslawyer/2023/01/26/hogan-lovells-on-the-case-why-the-firm-is-helping-to-bring-a-new-class-action-challenge/