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Texas Ends Solitary Confinement As Punishment, But Still Keeps Thousands Alone In Cells

Texas has stopped the practice of placing inmates in solitary confinement.
Jennifer Whitney
Texas Tribune
Texas has stopped the practice of placing inmates in solitary confinement.

Texas phased out the use of solitary confinement as punishment for prisoners this month, but it still plans to keep thousands alone in cells.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson Jason Clark said the  has been moving in this direction for some time.

"Restrictive housing has been a topic of discussion across the nation for a number of years," he said, "and we have looked at ways to reduce it and reduce in such a way that priority is placed on the safety and security of the institution, our staff members and offenders." 

Clark said the number of inmates in solitary confinement has become lower in recent years.

"So we began to look at that practice and that policy and determined that we can effectively stop it," he said.

Solitary confinement had been imposed as a punishment in response to a single major disciplinary incident, such as an attack on a correctional officer. An inmate would be isolated in a cell for up to 15 days, allowed out only for showering, and for legal and medical appointments. 

The TDCJ will continue to use administrative segregation, which Clark said it is not punitive, but a security measure.

"There is a difference and sometimes people would use those terms interchangeably, but they shouldn't," he said. "Administrative segregation – it's not one single incident that would place you in ad-seg. Staff would look at the totality of your behavior, and so, if you have a history of assaulting staff or attempting to escape, then potentially you could be placed in administrative segregation."

Inmates in administrative segregation are confined to cells 22 hours a day, allowed out for showering and recreation, as well as for legal and medical visits. The inmate's status and behavior is reviewed every seven days to determine whether the segregation should continue. 

"Ad-seg is for those offenders that, frankly, are dangerous to our staff, to other inmates, or an escape risk," Clark said. "Wardens still have that ability to place someone in ad-seg if they need to."

Clark said about 4,000 inmates are in administrative segregation. About 75 inmates are affected by the ending of solitary confinement.

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Austin resident, on and off, mostly on, since 1986. Covering news of Central Texas and beyond since 1994. Father since 2010. Maker of sounds, informational and otherwise, since longer ago than any of the above.