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Bill Would Assess Condition of Inmates in Solitary Confinement

Liang Shi for KUT

More than 5 percent of the prison population in Texas is in solitary confinement, more than double the 2 percent national average. But one state senator says too little is known about the condition of these prisoners, especially those who may have been diagnosed with mental health or cognitive problems.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee was considering the bill Wednesday afternoon.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported that about 7,700 prisoners were in solitary confinement -- or administrative segregation, as it’s called -- as of last month. In 2011, there were roughly 8,700.

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, has filed a bill to find out more about these prisoners, both juveniles and adults -- especially those with mental health problems. The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition estimates about 2,000 people in solitary confinement have a diagnosed mental illness or developmental disability.

Diana Claitor with the Texas Jail Project says segregating inmates with mental health issues doesn’t just happen in prisons; she knows about four people in county jails in Texas who are in administrative segregation and are mentally ill. The problems they encounter are similar.

“The veteran in Comal County isn’t receiving any treatment,” Claitor said. “He’s receiving a pill a day, which is an improvement. A lot of jails don’t even give medication.”

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department reports that more than half of its population of 1,300 in six facilities has diagnosed mental illnesses.

Travis Leete with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition says inmates in solitary confinement are there because they’ve posed a threat to the general population.

“I have a letter right now from an individual who spent 18 years in an isolated setting,” Leete said. “This individual was an escape risk. But sending them out without any treatment, you’re really jeopardizing public safety as well as this person’s well-being.”

The study mandated by the bill would also look at those who enter segregation with mental illnesses and those who develop problems during their time alone, to determine the psychological effects of the isolated setting.

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