Report Documents the Solitary Confinement Crisis in Texas Prisons…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 12/13/23

by | December 15, 2023

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New this week from Solitary Watch:

New Solitary Watch Editor-in-Chief Juan Moreno Haines discusses the importance of supporting and amplifying the vital work of incarcerated writers. “This is an enterprise that is very close to my heart,” he writes. “I myself have been behind bars at San Quentin for 27 years and counting. As a prison journalist, I have experienced firsthand the silencing of incarcerated voices, as well as the power of prison writing to break that silence.” Hear from Juan in a video recorded via phone calls from San Quentin. YouTube

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

A new report from Texas Civil Rights Project and University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic “uncovers the deeply troubling realities of solitary confinement in Texas prisons.” Primarily focusing on the H.H. Coffield Unit and the Mark W. Michael Unit, the report found that the suicide rate in Texas facilities between 2020 and 2022 was 86% higher than the average rate for all U.S. prisons in 2019. KVUE | The conditions within Texas solitary confinement units were described as “grotesque,” including human urine, blood and feces caked onto cell walls and cells are frequently infested with insects and rats. In addition, people incarcerated in these units are sometimes forced to go as long as ten days without showering. The report concludes “solitary confinement in Texas is a humanitarian crisis that cannot be allowed to continue.” Solitary Confinement in Texas: A Crisis with No End [pdf]

As Connecticut lawmakers convened for a special legislative session, they were met with an outcry from correctional union officials about the lack of action over a recent increase in assaults on officers. Union officials claim that the increase is tied to the recent implementation of the Protect Act, which limits the use of solitary confinement and guarantees more out-of-cell time for people incarcerated in Connecticut. However, advocates say the unions’ portrayal is disproportionate and fails to take into account the underlying conditions that cause prison violence. CT Mirror | In a recent podcast appearance, journalist Jaden Edison explained that his research found that the most significant increase occurred as Connecticut prisons were coming out of the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic. CT Mirror

Last month, when sewage and feces flooded an ICE detention facility in central New Mexico, guards forced incarcerated immigrants to clean it up with their bare hands. If the individuals refused to comply, they were placed in solitary confinement, where they were given spoiled food and refused access to drinking water, clean clothes, fresh air, and heat. Days later, several immigrants fell ill with rashes and respiratory issues caused by the sewage. Now, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) is calling for the facility to be closed and for ICE to terminate its contract with the private prison group CoreCivic. Source NM

Two New York state lawmakers have announced a bill aimed at guaranteeing and preserving the rights of incarcerated people. The Rights Behind Bars bill comes in response to New York prisons and jails’ sweeping disregard for incarcerated people’s rights and current state law. By placing incarcerated people’s rights within the framework of international law, the bill seeks to reinforce limits on solitary confinement, among other reforms. NY Focus

A recent study by researchers at the University of Texas El Paso found that incarcerated women are punished for “defiance infractions” 40% more than men. Defiances are the most minor disciplinary infractions and include disrespecting staff, consensual sex acts, and changing one’s appearance without authorization. In a press release, lead researcher Melinda Tasca, Ph.D. stated “despite being minor violations, defiance infractions can have profound consequences,” including solitary confinement. University of Texas El Paso

Twenty women are suing over sexual abuse they experienced while formerly incarcerated at Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center in Maryland. According to the lawsuit, a counselor at the facility assaulted one woman in her cell, while others were forced to perform sex acts on each other while a sergeant watched. The women state that if they did not comply they were threatened with or placed in solitary confinement. The Baltimore Sun

A transgender woman is suing the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) over abuses suffered while incarcerated. The lawsuit alleges that despite the recommendations of four GDC mental health providers, officials forcibly shaved her head and denied her access to gender affirming care before placing her in solitary confinement. While in solitary, the woman attempted suicide after which guards refused to transfer her to a mental health stabilization unit. The Appeal

Jackson County has agreed to settle and pay $7.25 million to the mother of Joshua McLemore, who died of dehydration and malnutrition after suffering a 20-day mental health crisis in solitary confinement at the Jackson County Jail. In addition to the lawsuit against the county, there is still ongoing litigation against the private healthcare company contracted by the county. Attorneys involved in the case say that the lawsuit has “policy making responsibilities” regarding health care at the facility. The Republic

Earlier this year, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans for a restructuring of the state’s prisons to be modeled after the Norwegian prison system. The new approach has positive implications for incarcerated people and staff, both of whom suffer under the current system. One correctional officer on a solitary confinement unit, who traveled to Norway on an exchange program, stated that the system allows for staff and incarcerated people to connect as humans, which in turn decreases hostility and improves trust between the groups. The Christian Science Monitor

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The work we do is made possible by your support. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation—large or small—today. From now through the end of December, your donation will be DOUBLED through the NewsMatch program!

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