Texas Prisons on Statewide Lockdown…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 9/13/23

by | September 13, 2023

New this week from Solitary Watch:

In the most recent edition of Voices from Solitary, incarcerated artist and activist Timothy Young writes about his struggles living on California’s Death Row. According to Young, life on Death Row often entails frequent lockdowns, strip searches, and handcuffing whenever a person leaves their cell. Throughout the essay, Young examines how these restrictions of movement go beyond the physical, affecting a person’s mental and emotional health as well. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has issued a lockdown of all 100 facilities while a statewide contraband search is conducted. Approximately 129,000 currently incarcerated people will not be allowed visitation and have their movements restricted while the search is conducted. Advocates say that the lockdown will exacerbate the already dire conditions in Texas facilities by worsening understaffing and subjecting incarcerated people to extreme heat in cells. San Antonio Current | A spokesperson for TDCJ cited increased violence believed to be related to illicit drug use as the reason for the search. However, officials declined to answer when asked what recent incident prompted the lockdown or how long it would last. Despite the department’s insistence that increasing restrictions on incarcerated people will decrease drug use and violence, a 2021 investigation by the Texas Tribune and Marshall Project found that the main source for the drugs was actually low-paid TDCJ employees. Texas Tribune

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President Biden has rejected a list of proposed conditions sought as part of a plea deal by five men accused of conspiring in the attacks on September 11, 2001. The plea deal proposed by military prosecutors would swap the death penalty for life sentences if each of the men plead guilty to their charges. As part of the deal, the men also asked for assurances that they would not spend their sentences in solitary confinement, would be allowed to eat and pray together, and would receive treatment for the physical and psychological injuries they received while undergoing CIA torture at Guantanamo Bay. New York Times 

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Approximately 100 incarcerated people refused to return to their cells to peacefully protest water quality issues at Stillwater prison in Minnesota. Following the protest, the Minnesota Department of Corrections had 51,000 bottles of water shipped to the facility for incarcerated people to use while the water is tested. According to advocates, incarcerated people at Stillwater have complained for months about the brown water at the facility and they “have received multiple reports of health impacts from the water including skin, hair, and stomach problems, including cancer.” Twin Cities

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Ward 1 District of Columbia Councilmember Brianne Nadeau has announced her intent to introduce the Eliminating Restrictive and Segregated Enclosures (ERASE) Solitary Confinement Act of 2023 which would ban the use of solitary confinement in the DC Jail. The legislation also includes measures specifically targeted to protect vulnerable groups and prohibits the use of isolation for long-term suicide prevention. While the previous version of the bill didn’t make it past a public hearing last year, Nadeau hopes that narrowing the scope will increase the chance of it being passed. This version of the ERASE Solitary Confinement Act doesn’t apply to DC youth justice centers, but it includes oversight measures and eight hours of guaranteed out-of-cell time each day. DCist 

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After over a year of keeping children in the adult facility, a federal judge in Louisiana has ordered state officials to remove teens from Angola Prison’s former Death Row unit. The recent ruling found the state to have violated the children’s constitutional rights by subjecting them to solitary confinement, handcuffs, mace, and denying access to educational and mental health programming. In response to the ruling, advocate Antonio Travis stated, “If the state had truly cared about rehabilitating its most vulnerable children, elected officials would have enacted the holistic model of care passed into law decades ago.” NOLA 

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Nearly 10 percent of North Carolina’s incarcerated population—about 3,000 people—are living in solitary confinement. Prior to becoming the secretary of the Department of Adult Corrections, Todd Ishee told North Carolina legislators he intended to revise the state’s solitary confinement policies. However, he specified that he did not intend to end long-term solitary confinement. Currently, people incarcerated in North Carolina can be given long-term solitary confinement sentences for behaviors that would not be criminal outside of prison, including using profane language or delaying work while on assignment. Carolina Journal

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Recently, stories detailing assaults on correctional officers have filled the news in Connecticut, sometimes blamed on a decrease in the use of solitary confinement in the state. This despite the fact that following the passage of the 2022 Protect Act, a lack of oversight has allowed the use of solitary to continue, writes activist Barbara Fair. Although incidents of violence among staff and incarcerated people are infrequent, depicting them as a constant issue further contributes to an environment of animosity within facilities. Fair argues that instead, strong leadership among administrators combined with professional staff should be able to create a safe environment without keeping people in isolation. CT Post

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In a recent interview, author James Hannaham talks with incarcerated writer Kwaneta Harris about queerness, incarceration, and carceral censorship. When speaking about Hannaham’s most recent novel, Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta, Harris describes the profound impact it had on the other women in her solitary confinement unit in Texas. According to Harris, many of the women on her unit are illiterate, and reading the book aloud “showed them they can have a voice.” Literary Hub

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In a recent essay, incarcerated writer Lamar Moore describes daily life in his solitary confinement unit in Arkansas. Some people live in double isolation cells while others are housed alone. Regardless of the cell placement, no one in isolation is allowed to get haircuts, shave, or have their clothes machine washed. Moore produced the following drawing of his cell. Prison Journalism Project

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