Solitary in Texas Is “a Slaughterhouse for Souls”…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

7 Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 7/5/23

by | July 5, 2023

This week’s pick of news and commentary about solitary confinement:

Texas has one of the highest rates of solitary confinement use in the nation. Of the more than 3,000 Texans in solitary state prisons, 500 of them have been there for over a decade, causing severe damage to their psyche and well-being. “I’m already isolated from my community, the prison sentence should be the punishment; I shouldn’t be forced to watch people descend into madness back here,” said Kwaneta Harris in an interview. In January, incarcerated people across eleven Texas facilities went on a hunger strike, resulting in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) denying media access to individuals involved. The strike ended after seven weeks with no concessions made by TDCJ. Afterwards, several bills were introduced in the Texas legislature to limit solitary confinement as well as study its effects, but none was voted into law. “They know the damage solitary confinement causes, it isn’t new,” said Kwaneta Harris. “We’ve known this for over 100 years. It destroys people’s souls, it’s a slaughterhouse for souls. They have to end this.” AlJazeera | Exacerbating the problem, over two-thirds of Texas prisons have no air-conditioning, causing brutal living conditions for all incarcerated people and sometimes resulting in heat-induced deaths. The TDCJ has denied the impact heat plays in these deaths to avoid culpability. Texas Tribune | While the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has not reported a heat-related death since 2012, a study found that extreme heat was likely behind 271 summer deaths between 2001 and 2019. Truthout

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A transgender woman who was placed in solitary confinement for six years in a Missouri prison is now the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit. She was initially placed in solitary in 2015 when she was sexually assaulted and she was the one charged in the incident. The Missouri Department of Corrections has a policy that says incarcerated individuals who are sexually active and have HIV are considered a danger and eligible to be sent to solitary confinement. The woman’s attorney says she was not sexually active and was on medication that suppressed the virus, and her placement in solitary was a discriminatory act purely based on her HIV status. Kansas City Star 

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U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) are leading more than thirty lawmakers in calling on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the conditions faced by incarcerated transgender individuals and find solutions to improve their lives. “Reports from prisons and jails routinely unearth pervasive harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of physical violence against trans people perpetrated by both other incarcerated people and facility staff,” they wrote in a letter to the GAO. According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 20% of incarcerated trans people reported being assaulted by correctional officers and 22% reported being assaulted by other incarcerated individuals. Press Release

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David Holloman, an incarcerated individual in Delaware, attempted to boycott a for-profit company and is facing punishment for it. Holloman was trying to boycott Global Tel Link (GTL), a company that operates the tablets used by incarcerated individuals to keep in touch with their families. The Delaware ACLU has taken his case, claiming that after the protest was discovered, Holloman’s treatment drastically changed. He was placed in solitary confinement and lost his good time credits. ACLU National Prison Project Director David Fathi asserts that stopping the protest violates Holloman’s First Amendment rights and “should be very concerning to anyone who cares about freedom of expression.” WMDT

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Vermont prisons have seen a significant increase in deaths in the past year and a half. Since January 2022, sixteen incarcerated people have died, twelve of them died in Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield. In one case, David Mitchell complained of having trouble breathing, and in response, correctional officers threatened to send him to solitary confinement; he died later that day. Other families of people incarcerated at Southern State also believe their loved ones are receiving inadequate health care. Underfunding and understaffing may be factors in the increased rate of death, along with the possibility of retaliation being used against individuals who make medical complaints. Vermont Digger

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Henry Wade Juvenile Justice Center in Dallas is under fire from parents who say their children are being isolated for 22 hours a day with no fresh air, insufficient food, and inadequate medical care. Since 2016 kids locked up at Henry Wade have been reporting that they aren’t allowed to go outside. The director of the Dallas Juvenile Department denies these claims, but former and current employees confirm the reports. Victoria Halstead, whose son Mark Halstead is at Henry Wade awaiting trial, says she would prefer he was sent to Dallas County’s adult jail “where he would go outside and she could post bail.” Halstead points out that the kids at Henry Wade are experiencing neglect and extreme isolation that under any other circumstances would be considered child abuse. Dallas Morning News

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Children as young as eleven are being “confined alone to cells the size of parking spaces up to 23 hours a day” at a juvenile detention center in Illinois, according to a lawsuit filed by ACLU of Illinois. Kids at the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center in Benton must ask staff permission to flush the toilet, and black mold grows on the walls. Children can go days or weeks without access to schoolwork, and there are no mental health professionals employed at the facility. The lawsuit seeks a court order compelling the facility to improve conditions immediately, arguing young people are being deprived of their rights under the 14th Amendment. Associated Press

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In a profile, Craig Waleed describes the years he spent in solitary confinement in North Carolina. “It seemed like the walls were starting to get smaller and tighter,” he said. “It’s almost like a wet, heavy blanket put on you.” Waleed says his time in solitary continues to haunt him 25 years later–as do the approximately 2,500 individuals currently held in solitary in North Carolina. Today, he manages the nonprofit advocacy group Disability Rights North Carolina’s “Unlock the Box” campaign, which works toward ending prolonged solitary confinement in the state. “That’s what fuels me: my experience of pain, loss, and trauma.” The Assembly

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The Washington State Department of Corrections has announced its intention to reduce its use of solitary confinement by 90% over the next 5 years. The agency gave no details as to how the reduction would take place, but said a plan would be unveiled later in the year. In a press release, DOC Director Cheryl Strange said “The research is clear on solitary confinement. It causes long-lasting harm. While it can be an effective way to deter violence, spending prolonged periods of time in isolation has devastating effects on an individual’s mental and physical health long after they leave our facilities.” The announcement comes after state legislators introduced a bill earlier this year which would sharply limit the use of solitary confinement in Washington’s prisons. Seattle Weekly

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