In Texas, some 8,100 prisoners are in administrative segregation, which is what the state calls solitary confinement. They are held in isolation in cells that measure 6 x 9 feet for 23 hours a day, with one hour to exercise in a small, fenced yard. More than 2,000 of them have a diagnosis of serious mental illness or a developmental disability.
Yesterday, the Criminal Justice Committee of the Texas State Senate held a hearing on solitary confinement, focusing on the state’s nonexistent reetry program for people getting out of the hole. The leading Texas criminal justice blog, Grits for Breakfast, has a detailed report on the hearing:
In FY 2011, the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee was told yesterday, 878 individuals who’d been locked up in administrative segregation (commonly referred to as “ad seg,” which is Texas’ version of solitary confinement) were released directly to the streets without parole supervision of any type after finishing out their full sentence. Most of these individuals left with $100 in their pocket and a bus voucher – usually to their county of conviction – without so much as a photo ID to help them begin the long, difficult path to reintegration into their home communities. Indeed, for mentally ill inmates in ad seg released after serving their full sentence, there is no continuity of care program to ensure they’ll continue to receive medication once they’re back in the free world. (Such a program exists for inmates released receiving HIV medications, but not for the mentally ill.)
Another 469 individuals during FY 2011 were paroled directly from ad-seg, Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) executive director Brad Livingston told the committee. As was pointed out in Texas Criminal Justice Coalition’s written testimony, “Inmates on parole have the advantage of being able to participate in a District Reentry Center, which generally offers more robust programming and resources during the transition into the community.” The greater number, though, who are released directly from ad seg, leave prison completely unsupervised…
Grits also explains how people get put in solitary in Texas, and why they often don’t get out until their release from prison:
Sen. Joan Huffman asked Brad Livingston if offenders “earn their way into ad seg” and he answered, “for the most part, yes,” but it became clear during questioning, as Chairman Whitmire later noted, that a large number of inmates are placed in solitary due solely to TDCJ’s classification judgments as opposed to misbehavior once incarcerated.
There are two ways offenders get into ad seg, Livingston told the committee: Being identified as a member of a “security threat group” (read: “prison gang”) or misbehavior, especially violence against staff or other inmates, while locked up. Of those, about 60% are in ad seg because they’re members of a security threat group, with the other 40% in ad seg because of their behavior. Those in prison gangs are identified by tattoos, past associations, or their inclusion in the statewide prison and street gang database and may be placed into ad seg from the get-go, sometimes serving their entire sentence start to finish in solitary. Others are identified through gang associations established at their unit, or put there because they’re determined to be a threat to prison staff and/or other inmates. According to data provided by TCJC, “about one-third of the individuals currently in administrative segregation in Texas were originally incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.” Some of those result from misbehavior once inside, but many are there because of alleged gang affiliations.
There is a program for gang members to theoretically earn their way off of ad seg called the Gang Renunciation and Disassociation (GRAD) program, but there is a significant waiting list (officials couldn’t tell the committee how long it is) and the program’s current capacity is only 61 inmates. To enter the program, the inmate must go through a 12-month observation period (until recently it was 24 months) during which it’s supposedly determined if the offender has ceased gang-related activity.
Chairman Whitmire suggested many experts would say such an assessment needn’t take even 12 months and asked what I thought was a very good question: Given that ad seg inmates are afforded no human contact except with guards, how can they possibly demonstrate gang renunciation? “What evidence are you looking for?” he asked. The answer was basically monitoring inmate correspondence, in-cell behavior, and assessing their interaction with guards who feed them and take them to their (otherwise solitary) one-hour recreation sessions. That seems like a sparse dataset indeed for making such a judgment.
Henson points to the model of Mississippi, where the number of prisoners in solitary was reduced by 85 percent, and violent incidents subsequently dropped by 70 percent. “That’s a remarkable achievement, both from a policy and a political perspective. If Mississippi can accomplish that – and they’re as red as red states come – one imagines Texas could safely reduce its ad-seg population as well. Presently, about 1% of Mississippi prisoners are in ad seg units, compared to more than 5% in Texas.”