By Robyn Short
Texas House Bill 1266 passed through the Texas Congress and is before the Governor. Thank you to everyone who called their representative to advocate for his bill.
Texas House Bill 1266 calls for an Adult and Juvenile Administrative Segregation Task Force for the state of Texas. Administrative Segregation is the termed used by criminal justice systems for solitary confinement. With 152,000 individuals currently incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison system, our state leads the nation in incarceration. When most people think of prison, they think of the typical 9×12 cell occupied by two individuals. However, that is only one housing assignment. In Texas, many people are locked up alone in cages with no contact to the outside world. Twenty-three hours out of the day they sit and stare at the walls or ceiling, or they pace back and forth in a cell smaller than most American bathrooms. They have only one hour of recreation, and that “recreation” occurs in an outdoor (and sometimes an indoor) cage where the person can jog in a small circle, shoot basket ball hoops, do push ups or any other activity he or she can find to do alone.
Read the full bill here.
How do people end up in solitary confinement?
Solitary confinement may be assigned due to an individual’s security level; it may be used for punishment; it may be used as a protective measure for individuals who are at risk of being preyed on by more violent offenders (i.e., individuals who have been sexually assaulted in prison, gay individuals, former police officers, former judges, individuals who have committed crimes against children and the elderly, etc,); it is used for gang members; and, sometimes it is used simply because keeping people in solitary confinement is more convenient than keeping them in general population.
To put this in perspective, if a parent were to lock his or her child in a cage, feed that child through a slot in the door, and only allow the child to come out once a day to play outside in another cage all alone, that parent would face criminal charges. And yet, criminal justice systems throughout the United States lock children, teenagers, young adults, and people of all ages in solitary confinement every day.
Solitary confinement has a devastating impact on the individual. Individuals living in isolation report experiencing numerous negative side effects such as: depression, despair, anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, hallucinations, inability to control impulses, impaired cognitive functioning, inability to concentrate and reduced memory functioning, impaired hearing and visions, increased stress, reduced immune system, failure to menstruate, early onset menopause and aggressive behavior. Individuals in solitary confinement are at a significantly increased risk of suicide.
Human Rights Experts Denounce the Use of Solitary Confinement
Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. Program for Human Rights Watch stated in an NPR interview, “The massive use of long-term segregation reflects a failure of correctional policies. Segregation has become routine because of the exploding prison populations, which strain meager prison budgets.” She goes on to say, “Our research shows that segregation is used far more frequently, for far longer periods of time, and under far harsher conditions than is legitimately needed to manage inmate security.”
A Step in the Right Direction
Texas House Bill 1266 is a step in the right direction. This bill calls for an Adult and Juvenile Administrative Segregation Task Force that will hold scheduled meetings to conduct a comprehensive review of administrative segregation and seclusion policies and practices in Texas. The task for will develop methods for reducing the number of adults, children and teens in isolation; provide inmates and juveniles housed in administrative segregation with increased access to programs, services, and mental health treatment; and make findings and policy recommendations relating to the use of administrative segregation in facilities in Texas. No later than December 1, 2014, the task force will deliver a report of their findings and recommendations to the governor, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house of representatives, the standing committees of each house of the legislature with primary jurisdiction over criminal justice matters, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and the executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. The task force will be abolished on August 31, 2015.
The HB 1266 Adult and Juvenile Administrative Segregation Task Force is an important positive step in the right direction for creating a safer, more humane state for all Texans—those living in and out of prison.
Act now by letting your state house and senate representative know that you support this bill, and you want them to as well. Find your representatives and their contact info here.
How to write a letter to your congressional representative
Keep your simple, short, and to the point. Only address this one particular issue. If you have other issues you would like to address, cover those issues in separate letters. You should ideally keep your letter to about 300 words or less. You want your congressional representative to read it, so make it short. You may want to use the following template:
1. Address the reason you are writing, and who you are. If you have credentials that can “beef up” your message, add them. For example, if you have a PhD, add that to your name. If you are a student at a University, state that. Let your congressional representative know who you are. If you want a response, include your name and address, and email.
2. The second paragraph should include more details. State the facts and leave the emotion out of it. State specifically how this issue effects your own life as well as the lives of others. State the specific bill you are writing about.
3.The last paragraph should state your specific request—i.e., please vote for or against this ______ (state the bill).
Be courteous, to the point, and specific.
Addressing Members of Congress
To Your Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
To Your Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768
Texas House of Representatives
You may also choose to use this letter below.
Dear Representative _____ / Dear Senator _______
I am writing to request your support of HB 1266. With 152,000 individuals incarcerated in Texas, our state leads the nation in incarceration rates. Many of these individuals are housed in solitary confinement. Research shows that solitary confinement can have a serious impact on the mental and physical well-being of a person. The numerous negative side effects experienced by those in administrative segregation include: depression, despair, anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, hallucinations, inability to control impulses, impaired cognitive functioning, inability to concentrate and reduced memory functioning, impaired hearing and visions, increased stress, and aggressive behavior.
As a citizen of this great state, I am deeply concerned for the well-being of those living in solitary confinement, as well as the well-being of society when those in solitary are released back into society with little to no rehabilitative services.
Please show your support for all of your constituents by ensuring HB 1266 is placed on the calendar for congress to review and by voting “yes” for the Adult and Juvenile Administrative Segregation Task Force called for in this bill.
I greatly appreciate your consideration of this request, as well as a reply to this letter.
<insert your name>
This is your state government. Own the process.
Robyn Short has ghostwritten numerous books and is the founder of goodmedia press and goodmedia communications. She is a student of A Course in Miracles, a self-study system of spiritual psychotherapy. Robyn is a passionate believer in peace and social justice. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Auburn University, a Masters of Liberal Arts from Southern Methodist University and will graduate with a Masters in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution from Southern Methodist University in 2014. Robyn is the author of Prayers for Peace, and the forthcoming children’s book Peace People, co-authored with Nanon Williams. Robyn is available for book signings and to speak on topics of peacebuilding and nonviolence, especially as it relates to these core issues. Contact Robyn by email.