Men on Texas Death Row Sue to End Decades of “Cruel” Isolation…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 2/1/23

by | February 2, 2023

Interior of a jail cell in the Polunsky Unit on Texas death row
A cell at the Polunsky Unit, home to Texas Death Row. (Photo: Court filing)

Incarcerated men on Texas death row filed a lawsuit challenging their placement in indefinite solitary confinement. The state’s male death row, which is housed in the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, has held men in near-total isolation since 1999, after a person escaped from death row. The lawsuit states that the men are locked in their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day in violation of the state’s own policies, and are routinely denied proper access to medical care and attorneys.  Texas Tribune

Terence Andrus, who was incarcerated on death row in Texas, committed suicide last Saturday. Before taking his life, Andrus had appealed his death sentence to the Supreme Court, stating that he had received ineffective legal representation at his 2012 trial. According to his appeal, which was denied by the Supreme Court in June, Andrus’ attorney failed to investigate his mental health conditions and traumatic childhood, including the extensive amount of time he spent in solitary confinement at a youth facility in Texas.  Balls and Strikes | Andrus was a talented writer and artist, and shared his artwork on his website.

Connecticut’s largest prison, Macdougall-Walker Correctional Institution, has been locked down for multiple weeks due to rising COVID cases. Incarcerated people at the facility have been confined in their cells for most of the day during the lockdown. Claudia Cupe, an activist with the Katal Center, said conditions at Macdougall-Walker have been “just terrible all around.”  Greenwich Time | More: A commentary by incarcerated writer Christopher Blackwell gives a first-hand account of the harms of solitary confinement during COVID.  Counterpunch

The Texas prison strike has entered its third week. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, two dozen men are continuing to refuse food as part of the strike, which was organized to protest inhumane conditions in solitary.  Texas Public Radio | The Editorial Board of the Houston Chronicle called for the state to reform its use of solitary confinement, writing, “Texas prisons have to do better. Lawmakers should insist on it—for the inmates, yes, but also for the society they’ll have to function in once they’re out.”  Houston Chronicle

The Nebraska state legislature is considering a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement. The bill, which defines solitary confinement as 22 hours of isolation per day, would restrict placements in solitary to no more than 15 consecutive days.  KETV | Context: A comprehensive report published by Unlock the Box last week analyzes recent trends in legislation to limit or end solitary.  Unlock the Box

The New York City Council held a hearing on the rights of transgender people incarcerated on Rikers Island. The hearing comes three and a half years after Layleen Polanco, a trans woman, died in solitary on Rikers in 2019. “It is possible that Layleen would have been alive today had DOC placed her in housing consistent with her gender identity,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who introduced legislation that would mandate reporting on the number of transgender people in custody.  CBS News | Context: Transgender women of color face disproportionately high rates of incarceration, and are often placed in solitary.  Solitary Watch

Arizona will create an independent oversight commission to review its state prison system and produce a public-facing report this fall. Announced in an executive order from Governor Kate Hobbs, the commission will include several positions for formerly incarcerated people and their family members. Conditions in Arizona prisons, including in solitary confinement, were recently found unconstitutional by a federal judge.  AZ Central

Anthony Ehlers, who is incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center, writes about the five and a half years he spent in solitary confinement in Illinois. Ehlers describes how his time in solitary led him to become paranoid and severely depressed. Though it has been many years since he left solitary, the trauma of the experience remains with him. “I may have left isolation, but isolation has never left me,” he writes.  Chicago Reader


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