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Review of Solitary Confinement in Texas Lacks Funding to Proceed

A legislatively-mandated, detailed review of the use of solitary confinement in Texas prisons—where the average stay in administrative segregation, or "ad seg," is more than three years—had not been initiated four months after Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill requiring it in 2013.

That's because the state's Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee had neither met to hire an independent party to perform the review nor had the intention to do so since the committee has not been funded or active since at least 2009.

Prisoner advocates were, therefore, left to raise the funds—about $128,000, according to the Legislative Budget Board—to pay for the study of how the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) uses solitary confinement, how often, how much it costs, and how it affects prisoners.

"We haven't given up," Cindy Eigler, of the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said in January 2014.

Eigler said that TDCJ's 8,784 prisoners in solitary confinement in 2011 —about 5% of TDCJ's overall population—ranks as the second-largest ad seg population in the country. And more than 2,000 of those isolated prisoners, according to a legislative analysis, had been diagnosed with either serious mental illness or mental retardation.

The review is to also include the use of solitary in juvenile facilities run by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

Getting the review done—by December 2014, as mandated by Senate Bill 1003—is important "both from a fiscal responsibility sense and also from the perspective of little things like humanity and the Constitution," said Brian McGiverin, an attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Though Texas has managed to reduce the number of segregated prisoners since the population reached 9,752 in 2005, some TDCJ prisoners have been in solitary confinement for more than two decades.

One prisoner who had been in ad seg for 18 years wrote to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition about "the conditions people are being removed straight from" before being released back into the community.

"I have difficulty concentrating while reading and talking and I forget what I was trying to say mid-sentence," the prisoner wrote. "I've watched sane men slowly go insane, become a person I've never seen before. They lose their ability to rationalize."

Concerned about prisoners being released without transition between solitary and the free world, Texas' Senate Criminal Justice Committee convened hearings in 2012 to initiate a closer look at TDCJ's use of segregation. At the time, TDCJ said it was trying to expand opportunities for prisoners to get out of ad seg and to provide educational resources for those in lockdown.

Without funding for a review of TDCJ's isolation practices, however, no one really knows if Texas prison officials have made headway.

According to Eigler, she and other advocates are working with lawmakers to seek funding to get the review done.

"It's really silly not to study it," she said.


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