new report released by the Texas affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Civil Rights Project finds that the state's department of corrections relies too heavily on solitary confinement of prisoners as a form on punishment.
Specifically, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice subjects 4.4 percent of its prisoners to solitary confinement, which the report finds totals to more individuals than 12 states' prison populations. Currently, more than 6,000 Texas prisoners live in solitary confinement, which according to the ACLU of Texas and Texas Civil Rights Project costs Texas taxpayers at least $46 million a year.
In 2012, Texas reduced its prison population by 5,000 individuals, though in conducting almost 150 interviews with Texas prisoners living in solitary confinement, report authors found that, on average, individuals spend four years in solitary confinement. They spend at least 22 hours per day in a cell that is only 60 square feet in size and are also more likely to commit crimes once released from prison, according to the report.
“In recent years, the state of Texas has made strides to reduce our prison population and implement smart-on-crime reforms,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “If Texas is to remain a leader in criminal justice reform, now is the time for our legislators in Austin to join other states in rolling back the use of solitary confinement, which would reduce violence in prisons and money wasted on a dangerous correctional practice that has been shown to lead to higher rates of recidivism.”
The organizations offer recommendations and alternatives to this controversial punishment tactic, including the exemption mentally ill prisoners from solitary confinement and only utilizing that form on punishment for individuals who pose a serious security threat.
“When you consider the savings, reductions in prison violence, increased safety for Texas guards, and the benefits to prisoners who may return to live and work in our communities, reform and reduction of TDCJ’s use of solitary is the smart and right thing to do," said Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Burke Butler.