Report Compares Texas’ Solitary Confinement Policies to Torture

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/04/26/us/texas-death-row-torture-report.htmlDuring the decade he spent behind bars at the Polunsky Unit, the prison that houses all of Texas’ death row inmates, Alfred D. Brown would spend at least 22 hours a day alone in his cell.

On some days, he might get to spend an hour alone in the common room or an outdoor courtyard. And every once in a while, he would secretly tap fingertips with other inmates, through the metal lattices on their cellblock doors.

It was the only physical human contact he could find, Mr. Brown said in a phone interview.

“I could talk to a guard, but I tried not to,” he said. “They’re out to get you.”

Mr. Brown was released from prison in 2015 after evidence problems surfaced in his case and his murder conviction was thrown out. His experience at the Polunsky Unit is among dozens included in a critical report released Monday by the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law. Its authors concluded that solitary confinement in Texas violates international human rights standards and amounts to a form of torture.

Ariel E. Dulitzky, a law professor who runs the clinic and is an author of the report, said that solitary confinement practices in Texas, in particular, are hurting the United States when it comes to human rights.

“We decided that it was important, as a university in Texas, to pay attention to what was happening here — why Texas was bringing this international criticism against the U.S.,” Mr. Dulitzky said.

The study was small and qualitative, analyzing questionnaire responses from 32 former Polunsky Unit inmates. It found that prisoners at the unit, in Livingston, Tex., suffered psychological problems as a result of confinement, compounded by a lack of access to health care and changes to execution schedules that forced some prisoners to prepare for death more than once.

Mr. Brown, 35, remembers a never-ending cacophony there. “Everybody’d be talking over one another in there, so it’s like one big, bad radio station that can’t get a signal,” he said. “I lived in that cell like I was — I don’t know, I can’t even explain it. I put myself in that cell and just, like, zoned out.”

The report refers to Texas’ death row practices as “particularly draconian,” pointing out, for example, that Polunsky Unit prisoners do not share meals or recreational time with other inmates; cannot have physical contact with their families, even on their way to execution; and are held in solitary confinement as a matter of policy, rather than for safety or disciplinary reasons. Read the full article here…