Questions Raised About Solitary Confinement
By Bettina Meier
The number of Texas prisoners being held in solitary confinement has gone down, but lawmakers were told today that some serious problems remain.
Across Texas, 8,100 prisoners are being held in isolation cells. Six years ago that number was 9,500.
“A significant number of offenders in that maximum security designation are there because they are members of prison gangs,” Brad Livingston, director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said at a state Senate committee hearing. “Our objective is to balance our responsibility for providing ongoing opportunities for rehabilitation and re-entry.”
But while Livingston calls this success, several organizations disagree. They claim solitary confinement causes serious mental health problems and makes existing mental health problems worse.
Matt Simpson with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas told lawmakers that this has led to a sharp increase in people getting re-arrested after they have been released.
“It makes it worse,” he said. “It has an effect like PTSD where folks have a hard time being in public. That’s a common symptom of folks coming back from war. So evidence has indicated that individuals just have mental health decompensation when held in that kind of setting.”
The ACLU is calling for solitary confinement to be used only in short bursts. The group also wants to improve the system that determines who goes into an isolation cell.
Changes to the solitary confinement system could be included in a bill during the legislative session that begins in January.