Prisoners on Texas’ death row kept in isolation for several years; lawsuit wants to end ‘cruel’ treatment

Prisoners on Texas’ execution row are suing the state, claiming it is unlawful to keep them in solitary confinement for the duration of their measured lives with no medical attention, no consideration for their emotional anguish, and limited opportunities to seek legal assistance.


According to the complaint, males who are on death row are kept alone in cramped cells for 22 to 24 hours each day, frequently going against the state’s own rules about how frequently they are allowed to leave. 

On good days, they are allowed to bathe or spend an hour outside in a cage by themselves. They typically spend their days lying on a metal bed, listening to the echoes of other prisoners and guards through steel doors and concrete walls because of a lack of personnel.

Prisoners claim they can peep through the tiny window slots at the top of their cell walls to glimpse the sky if they roll up their thin mattresses to stand on.

The case, which was submitted on Thursday in a federal court in Houston, asserts that the detainees’ prolonged isolation violates their right to counsel and medical treatment, as well as seriously harms their physical and mental health.

Most of the 181 men in Texas who have received death sentences have spent years on the infamous death row known as the Polunsky Unit. Over 75 people have been living with these problems for more than 20 years.

Since 1999, shortly after a notorious prison break by men who had been given the capital penalty, Texas’ male death row inmates have been kept in isolation. Before that period, there was no glass separating condemned convicts from their loved ones whether they visited, worked, or took part in educational programs.

Psychiatric Studies

Solitary confinement can have substantial, long-lasting effects, especially for people with pre-existing mental problems, according to a growing corpus of psychiatric studies.

According to prison statistics, at least eight people on the death row had committed suicide in the last 20 years. The most recent suicide occurred on Saturday when Terence Andrus, 34, hanged himself in his little cell and was found unconscious. He had spent ten years on death row after being found guilty of murdering two persons in Fort Bend County in 2008 during an attempted carjacking.

Regarding the ongoing case, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice declined to comment. In protest of Texas’ isolating non-death row inmates purely because they are gang members, other non-death row inmates started a hunger strike this month.

Other Reports, Death Row Conditions

The state Department of Corrections has consented to a number of court-ordered adjustments to make the housing unit more compassionate, including shared dinners and more time spent outside, as scores of death row convicts in Louisiana wait for executions that might never occur.

The modifications follow a countrywide decline in executions, including in Louisiana, where the last execution took place in 2010, and a growing consensus among academics and prison authorities that extended periods of solitary confinement can have major psychological effects.

Several death row convicts filed a lawsuit against the government in 2017, claiming that years spent in solitary confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment. At the time, inmates on death row were compelled to spend 23 hours every day inside their cramped cells. They might spend the remaining hour by themselves in the bathroom or corridor.