Friday, July 20, 2012

Solitary Confinement in Texas

A commentary posted in the Austin American Statesman on July 13, 2012, by John Elford, takes a look at the solitary confinement issues in our state prisons. I believe that the audience that Elford is trying to reach is one that feels compassion for those who are affected by this cruel punishment. I, personally, have the same feelings as Elford towards solitary confinement.

For those of you who don't know, solitary confinement is when an inmate in jail or prison is confined, by themselves, to a small room or cell. Usually, this occurs when the inmate misbehaves or is ordered by the court to do so, depending on the original charge they received. This room has a matress, blanket, and toilet. The inmates meals are handed to them through a slot in the door, and are only allowed out for one hour a day for excersize, alone. They usually have no books, no special privileges, and absolutely no human contact. They are alone in a cell with nothing but their mind. Sounds absolutely horrific to me, I think I would loose my mind. And according to John Elford, most of them do.

In the commentary Elford explains his feelings while visiting the Hughes Unit in Gainsville, Texas. It is interesting that what really stood out to him were the men who inhabit these confined rooms. Even after touring the entire prison, he found those rooms to be most disturbing. Elford also mentions a comment made at the first Congressional Hearing on solitary confinement last month. According to him, Senator Dick Durban stated that the U.S. holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other Democratic Nation in the world. Elford also touches on a testimony given by Anthony Graves, who was wronfully imprisoned in Texas for 18 years, 10 of which he was in solitary confinement. Graves stated that he would watch men go into prison, and by the time they were leaving, three years later, had completely lost their minds from being in confinement. He also mentioned a man ripping up sheets, wrapping them around him, and setting them on fire.

According to Elford, other states are finding better and more humane ways, to take care of prisoners who are causing problems within jails and prisons. He states that Mississsippi reduced its solitary confinement population by 75 percent "by critically evaluating and reforming the policies determining how prisoners are classified for placement in isolation." According to Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, violence fell by 50 percent. Elford states that Mississippi has saved millions of dollars by reducing the amount of prisoners in solitary confinement.

One disturbing comment in Elfords commentary is as follows: "Prisoners in prolonged isolation typically suffer from sleep disturbances, compulsive cleaning and pacing, paranoid ideas and free-floating anxiety." Elford goes on to describe how solitary confinement can be very disturbing for people who already have pre- existing medical conditions. He states, "Those with pre-existing mental illness, which in some facilities is nearly half the population, frequently have psychological breakdowns, self-mutilate or attempt suicide." That is a very disturbing picture.

Elford is stating that it is time to change this system like many other states have. I absolutely agree with Elford on this one. There has to be a better way. Throwing people in cells like dogs sounds absolutely inhumane to me. People need physical contact and human interaction. The U.S. should not be torturing our own people. I urge anyone reading this to let their voice be heard on this one and try to get solitary confinement reduced to punishment for only extremely severe crimes.

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