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April 25, 2017

"Designed to Break You: Human Rights Violations on Texas' Death Rows"

The title of this post is the title of this new report released yesterday by the Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas School of Law. Here is part of its executive summary:

This report demonstrates that the mandatory conditions implemented for death row inmates by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) are harsh and inhumane. Particular conditions of relevance include mandatory solitary confinement, a total ban on contact visits with both attorneys and friends and family, substandard physical and psychological health care, and a lack of access to sufficient religious services. Investigation into these conditions reveals that current TDCJ policy violates international human rights norms and standards for confinement.  Conditions on death row at TDCJ’s Polunsky Unit must be remedied posthaste.

In 1999, Texas reintroduced the practice of mandatory solitary confinement for every individual convicted of capital murder.  Solitary confinement involves total segregation of individuals who are confined to their cells for twenty-two to twenty-four hours per day, with a complete prohibition on recreating or eating with other inmates.  An average cell is no bigger than 8 feet by 12 feet, and contains only a sink, a toilet, and a thirty-inch-wide steel bunk with a thin plastic mattress.  Inmates are rarely provided with adequate blankets and often suffer from ongoing physical pain due to the mattress provided.  The majority of cells include a small window, but inmates are only able to see out by rolling up their mattress and standing on it.  This fact paired with the lack of adequate outdoor recreation time means that daily exposure to natural light is rare.  Every individual on Texas’ death row thus spends approximately 23 hours a day in complete isolation for the entire duration of their sentence, which, on average, lasts more than a decade.  This prolonged solitary confinement has overwhelmingly negative effects on inmates’ mental health, exacerbating existing mental health conditions and causing many prisoners to develop mental illness for the first time.  In addition to the detrimental effects of isolation, the practice of setting multiple execution dates means that many prisoners are subjected to the psychological stress of preparing to die several times during their sentence.

Inmates on death row experience severe barriers to accessing medical care, in part due to being housed in solitary confinement and being less able to effectively self-advocate. Inmates are not offered regular physical or psychological check-ups, and must rely on the guards to communicate and facilitate any healthcare appointments.  Such requests for care are, at best, responded to within a few days, but can go several weeks without a response and are often ignored or forgotten about.  In terms of psychological healthcare -- an issue of great importance given that a large majority of inmates on death row suffer from some form of psychological illness -- only inmates who were already taking psychiatric medication are able to meet regularly with psychiatrists.  Of those inmates who are eventually given access to psychological care, they are generally only prescribed some form of psychiatric medication, thus exacerbating the unmet need for some form of counseling or non-pharmaceutical therapy. Inmates with mental illness who do not necessarily want or need prescription drugs are essentially provided with only two options: take unwanted medication, or forgo psychological healthcare entirely.

Another major issue of concern is the lack of access to religious services on death row.  The extent to which inmates are able to access religious text is limited, as Christian bibles are the only material available from the prison chaplain.  Although Christian inmates can request such materials, they are rarely given access to ministers until the holiday season.  For inmates of different faiths, such as Islam or Judaism, the situation is more difficult as they must solely rely on outside sources for their religious materials.  They are provided with no access to practice their chosen faith, and are often met with contempt when seeking such access.  This has created a harsh environment for inmates who do not adhere to Christianity, and has enabled a discriminatory system on the basis of religion on Texas’ death row.

This report, prepared by the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, concludes that current conditions in TDCJ facilities constitute a violation of Texas’s duty to guarantee the rights to health, life, physical integrity, and dignity of detainees, as well as its duty to prevent cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of its inmates. These duties are recognized by human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other human rights bodies have repeatedly issued opinions decrying the inhumane conditions present at the Polunsky Unit. Particularly, international human rights bodies had considered that the prolonged and mandatory use of solitary confinement is “disproportionate, illegitimate, and unnecessary”.

April 25, 2017 at 02:11 PM | Permalink


Sick Texas.

Posted by: ray | Apr 25, 2017 7:19:54 PM

I think these conditions are cruel sadistic and totally unjust . These people are still human beings whatever they may have or have not done . How do you expect to rehabilitate anyone by just totally crushing them and thier whole being health included. This is cruelty to the max and it makes the captors Yes captors that s what you are no better than criminals . I believe in Karma and I believe this system is so cruel . Those who are giving it will get thier payback . I' m a carer . Whoever is writing this blog should start off petitions like the ones here in England . They could not get away with that here . I for one would sign and so would millions of others !

Posted by: Elizabeth Ray | Apr 26, 2017 9:07:34 AM

Many times we have cited the well done study showing the benefits of solitary confinement to the prisoner. Yet, Prof. Berman keeps re-posting these false and biased, pro-criminal, ipse dixit reports and articles.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 27, 2017 9:13:27 AM

Yo, Liz, give the class your home address. We want to send people in our horrible solitary confinement to your house and the houses of your neighbors. That way you can show us how to rehabilitate those fellas. Stop your bullshit, and start adopting some into your home.

We would love to do that, especially if you are in England, the source of our failed legal system. We seek revenge against you British for what your legal system has done to our crime victims.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 27, 2017 9:17:08 AM

I lost my husband to another woman, i was so heart broken.. I was in PAINS.. physically hurts in the chest.... emotionally distraught...wish there was a pill or shot to take that would make you feel all better..but today, OMG this is exactly how I feel..I feel so happy, i contact dr.uzor in regard of getting my husband back and ( uzorspelltemple@gmail.com) or visit his website//:www.uzorspelltemple.webs.com reunited i and my husband together with his powers,

Posted by: ossyle | Apr 29, 2017 10:13:21 AM

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