Texas Prisons Are “Hell on Earth”…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 5/22/24

by | May 22, 2024

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

Testimonies of people incarcerated all over Texas reveal horrifying conditions, long stays in solitary, and evidence of widespread abuse from correctional officers. Incarcerated people describe being kept in solitary confinement cells no bigger than a bathroom 22 to 24 hours a day in extreme heat. More than 500 people have been kept in solitary confinement in Texas for a decade or longer, more than any other state. Writer Damascus James explains how, in the wake of a post-COVID-19 hunger strike, numerous bills aimed at capping the time that one can spend in isolation, and improving conditions more generally, were introduced to the Texas legislature. Not one of them has passed. Despite glaring evidence that solitary confinement does not reduce violence in prisons, Texas still allows its use for years at a time. James discusses the desire born out of the state’s continuous purposeful ignorance of those suffering in its prisons to uplift their voices and tell their stories. This led to the creation of the TEXAS LETTERS PROJECT, which publishes writing by incarcerated people, highlighting their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The Dallas Morning News | In an interview, James explains the importance of hearing first hand experiences of solitary confinement’s effects and how it harms people. Houston Public Media | Alexis Guereca writes about conditions in solitary, where she has been held for over a year. TEXAS LETTERS PROJECT

Across the country, incarcerated people are forced to work in dangerous conditions, fighting wildfires, working with heavy machinery on industrial farms or in meat processing plants, and other treacherous positions. The products of this labor are used by major chains like Walmart, McDonald’s, and Target. They are paid little to nothing, and, in many states, they are completely cut off from all worker’s protections and compensation. If they refuse to work, they are often placed in solitary confinement. A two-year AP investigation revealed that the number of incarcerated people who are injured during this coerced labor is widespread but difficult to determine exactly, both because people fear reporting it and suffering solitary confinement or other forms of retaliation, and because privacy laws allow prisons not to release this information. Associated Press

Demetrius Buckley, a writer incarcerated in Michigan, faced violence and solitary confinement as retaliation for his work. Buckley published a piece for Prism detailing how the correctional officers in his institution wrote unnecessary tickets to prevent people from accessing mental health care and other services. After the article came out, correctional officers attacked Buckley with pepper spray before placing him in solitary confinement. When another journalist requested footage of the altercation from the Michigan Department of Corrections, the request was denied. Buckley continues to write to shed light on the treatment of incarcerated people. Prism

More than 90 people have come forward to sue the state of Illinois for abuse of incarcerated minors. Similar lawsuits have been filed around the country, with hundreds of testimonies that people were physically and sexually abused by correctional officers, counselors, and other detention center staff. In many cases, staff used threats of solitary confinement to coerce minors into sexual acts. Despite recent legislation aimed at making it easier to prosecute perpetrators of child sexual assault and abuse around the country, experts say that incarceration remains inherently dangerous for children. NPR

West Virginia’s Republican-led legislature adopted a law denying mental and physical health care that correctional officers and prison officials don’t deem “medically necessary.” This legislation will even further reduce incarcerated people’s ability to get care in a state where this is already difficult. Testimony from an organizer with the West Virginia Economic Justice Project showed that “mental health services” in WV prisons most often means solitary confinement. Bolts

Despite Alabama’s prisons being some of the most violent in the nation, lawmakers in the state continue to ignore attempts at reforms that could reduce their populations and make them safer; instead, they elect to create new crimes and mandate harsher punishments to increase incarceration. However, restorative justice groups are still fighting to create safer conditions for incarcerated people. The Restoring Promise Initiative, a project that uses interventions and mentors to help incarcerated teens, was found to reduce the likelihood of an incarcerated young adult spending time in solitary confinement by 83%. Alabama Reflector

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