Death row inmates in Texas suing over automatic solitary confinement

A group of male death row convicts in Texas is suing the state’s prison system, claiming that its practice of keeping them in solitary confinement for an extended period of time violates their constitutional rights.

Complaint Filed

The complaint, which was filed on Thursday on behalf of a number of male convicts at a single institution, claims that the state’s policy has had detrimental impacts on the inmates’ physical and mental health and that there is insufficient evidence to support it.

There is no longer any doubt that prolonged solitary confinement causes severe harm, the 45-page complaint claims. “Researchers have extensively documented the physical and psychological harms caused by solitary confinement specifically—and social isolation more generally—in a substantial body of peer-reviewed literature spanning decades.”

Texas is hardly the only state that immediately places convicts on death row in isolation. As of 2021, 12 states also routinely placed death row inmates in solitary confinement.

These Texas death row convicts allegedly spend at least 22 hours daily in small, 8 by 12 foot cells, according to the complaint. Only on days when the jail allows “recreation,” when “they are transported to separate concrete-and-metal cages and let to exercise alone,” are they allowed to leave their cells.

The case also makes the claim that the state’s use of such severe punishments is unjustified. “Defendants’ arbitrary mandate to keep all male death row inmates in solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences does not enhance safety and security, is incompatible with best practices for corrections, and serves no penological purpose,” the court stated.

This policy has had a terrible impact. Several of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs have spent decades in solitary confinement, including one who has spent almost 30 years there. Plaintiffs have experienced severe impairments in their physical and mental health as a result of their seclusion, including considerable weight gain, hypertension, melancholy, and PTSD.

Furthermore, prison officials have made it very difficult for these death row detainees to see their attorneys or receive proper medical treatment. The lawsuit states that doctors’ appointments “are infrequent, and mental and physical health practitioners are frequently obliged to interact with their patients openly on the row.” Legal visits may require weeks of planning and take place in open spaces where talks might be overheard.

The lawsuit asserts, among other grievances, that the plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment rights are violated by such protracted seclusion. The Eighth Amendment issues raised by prolonged solitary confinement have been acknowledged by a number of federal courts. According to the complaint, the Fifth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Texas, “acknowledged that it is’more than plausible’ that decades of solitary confinement can cause serious physical and psychological deterioration’sufficiently serious to invoke Eighth Amendment concerns.’”

The use of solitary confinement in Texas jails has long been a target of litigation, the most recent of which being this one. Dennis Wayne Hope, a prisoner who has spent almost 30 years in solitary confinement, requested that his case be heard by the Supreme Court last year. He claimed that this practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Several prisoners in Texas jails are currently fasting to protest the usage of solitary confinement by the state.

Other Reports, Prolonged Confinement

In American jails, extended solitary confinement is common. Almost 50,000 inmates—or about 3% of the whole prison population—were being detained in isolation in American prisons as of July 2021.

Nearly 4,000 individuals are thought to remain isolated in Texas, and more than two-thirds of them have been there for longer than a year.

According to David Fathi, the National Prison Project’s director, “decades of research showing the irreparable physical and psychological effects long-term solitary confinement produces.” David Fathi was speaking to C.J. at Reason last year’s Ciaramella. The use of long-term solitary confinement, which is acknowledged as a form of torture, in jails and other detention institutions is not justified, according to the United Nations.