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Solitary confinement in Texas: A serious hazard for many inmates

Being sentenced to prison after a criminal conviction is a difficult situation. While it is certainly possible to make it through a sentence unscathed, there are some facets of prison life that can make it more complex. In Texas, there is a troubling point that inmates have to deal with: solitary confinement.

While there is often good reason for an inmate to be placed in administrative segregation for short-term periods, many are calling long-term solitary confinement into question. In 1999, a federal judge found that long periods under these conditions lead to psychological pain. His ruling was ultimately overturned. However, there are clearly problems with the solitary confinement system here.

A look at the numbers

In this state, almost one-third of prisoners who are currently in solitary confinement have been there for at least six years. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has around 4,200 in solitary, which means they are in their cell alone for at least 22 hours each day. This is down from more than 9,000 a decade ago. Despite the decrease, this state leads the nation in the rate of inmates being placed in isolation.

A look at the numbers shows that Texas had 1,326 inmates who had been in solitary for more than six years as of August 2017, which is the latest data available. When you consider that the total number of prisoners who meet this criteria is only 1,950, you can see that there is a big issue in this state.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons comes in second on the list with 155 inmates who have been in solitary for more than six years. Pennsylvania comes in third with 151, Indiana is fourth with 115 and New Jersey rounds out the top five with 70.

Impacts of solitary confinement

The most significant impact that solitary confinement has on inmates has to do with their mental health. Deterioration in this area can lead to hallucinations and acute psychosis. Suicide attempts and self harm are common among inmates housed in these tiny cells by themselves. The mental health damage may continue long after the prison is released from prison.

Some argue that an overhaul of the solitary confinement system in Texas is necessary. Unfortunately, this is likely going to take time. While the TDCJ noted that administrative segregation won't be used as a consequence for rule violations, there are other reasons why prisoners find themselves there. People who are considered escape risks and those who have been classified as having a gang affiliation, as well as those who might be a threat to others in the prison, aren't impacted by this announcement.

For people who are facing a likely conviction in the criminal justice system, trying to minimize the time in prison or avoiding it completely might be in order. Your defense could very well be the key that prevents you from languishing in solitary confinement in Texas.

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