Texas inmates who joined a hunger strike to protest the state’s frequent use of lengthy solitary confinement have detailed the harm the practice does to their physical and emotional health, comparing it to torture.
Guadalupe III Constante claimed that despite having a spotless record of conduct, he has spent every day in isolation since being found guilty of a robbery 17 years ago. I embarked on a hunger strike to draw attention to this suffering because it has been 17 years since I’ve spoken to my wife, children, siblings, parents, or grandparents.
Constante, 44, was one of three prisoners who used jail email to contact the Guardian. They outlined the severe circumstances that compelled them to take part in the hunger strike that got underway in January. Small-scale protests are still being held. Yet, at its height, several hundred of the more than 3,000 inmates housed in restrictive housing, as solitary confinement is known in Texas, joined the protest.
Only four times in the previous two years have inmates in Constante’s wing been permitted to visit an outdoor area, he claimed. The sun is hardly ever visible even then. The hunger strikers created a list of written grievances and suggestions as part of their demands. They demanded a stop to the practice of keeping prisoners isolated for an indeterminate period of time if it is discovered that they have any connection to gangs, regardless of whether they have broken any regulations.
The UN and international human rights organizations have deemed it to be torture, according to Raymond Lopez, 67, who has spent nearly 28 years in solitary. He claimed that frequent suicide attempts and self-mutilation were made worse by a significant lack of staff.
The majority of all states in the union, Texas has more than 500 prisoners who have been held in isolation for at least ten years. According to scientific research, being kept alone and cut off from all human interaction might result in a mental breakdown within a few days.
Texas Inmates’ Long Complaint
A group of death row inmates sued the Texas prison system in federal court last month, alleging that the state’s policy of requiring all prisoners on death row to spend all of their time in solitary confinement does serious bodily and psychological injury.
The lawsuit claims that because they are confined to their 8 by 12 foot (2.4 by 3.7 meter) cells for all but two hours a day, the policy significantly restricts their access to social interaction, medical care, and legal representation.
The class action lawsuit claims that the solitary confinement policy serves only to increase the mental misery of prisoners and that it does not meet any real security or judicial needs. It was filed in federal court in Houston on behalf of the 182 male death row convicts.
All male death row inmates in Texas are housed in the Polunsky Unit, which is outside of Livingston, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of Houston. The seven female inmates who are not parties to the complaint and who are on the state’s death row are housed in a different facility.
The case was filed at the same time that a number of inmates in Texas have been on a hunger strike since January 10 in opposition to the state’s solitary confinement law. The exact number of participants is unknown; activists estimated there were several hundred at the outset of the strike, while TDCJ reported there were only approximately 70.
Less than 3% of the system’s inmates are held in solitary confinement, and it is “employed judiciously” with procedures in place to examine and challenge an inmate’s ongoing placement there, she stated.