Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Studying how to whittle away at solitary, prison suicides

Eric Dexheimer at the Austin Statesman has a pair of stories related to solitary confinement, one of which ("Do prisons need so many inmates in maximum custody," May 25) begins,
While all prison systems typically have some form of administrative segregation, Texas relies on its maximum custody status more than others. Direct comparisons are difficult; however, the most recent national count, in 2005, showed 2.7 percent of state inmates were on administrative segregation. Although the number in Texas prisons has been dropping slowly since 2006, the percentage here has been about 5.5 percent.

Last week, largely in response to concerns raised by mental health advocates, legislators ordered a detailed analysis of Texas’s use of administrative segregation, including recommendations on reducing its use and the amount of time offenders stay. “Very little is known about conditions in administrative segregation and how these conditions affect its population,” said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the bill’s author.

Several state prison systems recently have begun dramatically reducing their use of isolation. In some cases, the reforms were compelled by court order; in others, they were self-initiated.

Economics is one reason. As state prison systems struggle to meet budgets, they are taking a harder look at expensive programs such as administrative segregation, which can be double the cost of regular prison units. (A Texas corrections spokesman said the state doesn’t break out costs by custody level.)

Public safety is another. Many maximum security residents — about 900 in Texas last year — complete their sentences in isolation and are released directly back into civilian life without re-acclimation or supervision. A 2007 study of similar inmates in Washington state found they had “significantly higher felony recidivism rates” and committed new crimes sooner than other offenders.
Depending on the study's results, perhaps Texas in 2015 can follow the lead of other states described in the story: "In recent years, Ohio has dropped its administrative segregation population from 800 to 90. Mississippi reduced its from 1,300 to about 300, whittling the percentage of total inmates held in maximum custody from more than 5 percent to 1.4 percent."

Another piece, "Texas prison suicide rate high among inmates in isolation" (May 25) revealed the disturbing fact that though just more than 5% of Texas prison inmates are in solitary at any given time, their number make up to 40% of prison suicides. I had no idea it was that disproportionate. Reported Dexheimer:
Most Texans are unlikely to shed many tears over criminals who decide to end their own lives, particularly those convicted of serious offenses. Yet deaths like [Casey] Myers’ raise questions about how well the state is attending to its duty to care for its inmates.

The deaths also add to the debate over confining mentally ill inmates for long periods in relative isolation. About a quarter of Texas inmates held in administrative segregation have a diagnosis of mental illness or mental retardation.

That isn’t dramatically disproportionate from the overall prison population. Yet experts say evidence suggests that, more than in the general population, prolonged periods of isolation can worsen psychiatric symptoms in some and initiate them in others. Of the 56 Texas inmates who killed themselves in administrative segregation cells between 2007 and 2012, 28 — exactly half — had a mental health diagnosis.
With luck, the passage of SB 1003 by Carona will give us a lot more Texas-specific data and detail about these questions. That's the idea, anyway.


Anonymous said...

Grits, Perry needs to keep their @#$% sitting until all the reform bills are addressed, starting with HB104. The house did a remarkably poor job this session.

Anonymous said...

Then again, their victims are dead. No one is expending an sympathy for those who were killed by our friends on death row.

Anonymous said...

Then again, their victims are dead. No one is expending any sympathy for those who were killed by our friends on death row.

sunray's wench said...

Anon 1:42 ~ educate yourself. Death Row inmates do not form the majority of inmates held in Administrative Segregation.

It is worrying that the Senator feels so little is known about the effects of Ad Seg on those who exist there (staff and inmates), when there are so many Texas families who are touched by it. This simply shows how removed from the electorate Texas politicians are.

But at least they want to know, even if it is just to save some money, which is a start.