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Bill on Solitary Confinement Study Approved by Texas Senate Panel

Veronica Zaragovia

More than 5 percent of the total prison population in Texas is in solitary confinement. That’ s compared to about 2 percent nationally.

But one Texas Senator says too little is known about the conditions of these prisoners, especially those who may have been diagnosed with mental health or cognitive issues. SB 1003 passed out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and goes to the Senate floor.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported that as of March 2013, about 7,700 prisoners were in solitary confinement, or administrative segregation, as it’s called. 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 either a mental health or developmental disability diagnosis.

Diana Claitor is with the Texas Jail Project. She says she knows segregating inmates with mental health issue doesn’t just happen in prisons. She knows of about four people in county jails in Texas who are in ad seg 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 Departmentreports more than half of its population has a mental health diagnosis. There are about 1,300 young people in juvenile detention. The Department has six facilities under its jurisdiction.

Travis Leete said inmates in ad seg are there because they’ve posed a threat to the general population. He’s an attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

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

Experts say ad seg causes a series of chain reactions –released inmates are not only at risk of deteriorating mental health but they come out and require social services to get help, as do their families. This can create an ongoing burden on Texas taxpayers in the long run.