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Texas' Use of Solitary Confinement Worsens Inmate Mental Illness, Report Says

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A report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project says Texas' prison agency uses solitary confinement way too much.

Texas prisons kept 6,564 people in solitary confinement in 2014, and civil rights groups in Texas have a new report out that argues the state is using what it calls administrative segregation way too much: for an average of four years per inmate, and in some cases, as long as two decades.

Inmates are locked up alone in a 60-square-foot cell most of the day in Texas, and researchers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project say that worsens mental illness and makes inmates more dangerous to guards and to the public. It also costs taxpayers at least $46 million a year in extra security costs, according to the report.

Burke Butler with the Texas Civil Rights Project says prisoners with serious mental illness should be excluded from solitary confinement and that it should only be used on inmates who pose serious security risks.

"Many mentally ill people are now ending up in our prison systems, and the prison may not completely understand how to work with those populations. So when they act out, many end up in solitary confinement," Burke says.

Matt Simpson with the ACLU of Texas says he’s encouraged, however, by the interest that the state's prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, is showing in diversion programs – one that puts some inmates in less restrictive settings, another that works with inmates when they're released back into the public.

"Seeing the state really look and improving solitary confinement practices sets the bar for other states to think about doing the same thing," Simpson says.

Jason Clark with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice says that four percent of the offender population is in administrative segregation.

"In order to enhance staff and offender safety, offenders who are confirmed members of the most organized and dangerous prisons gangs, as well as offenders who are escape risks and who committed assaults or multiple other serious disciplinary offenses, are incarcerated within administrative segregation," the statement read.

According to the criminal justice agency, inmates in this confinement are often reviewed for reassignment, and the population has been steadily dropping since 2011.

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