TEXAS (USA): PRISONS VIOLATE INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED HUMAN RIGHTS STANDARDS
April 24, 2017:
Prisons in Texas are in violation of international human rights standards and deny civil rights of its prisoners on death row kept in solitary confinement, a report released Monday by the Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas School of Law concludes. (Source: patch.com, 24/04/2017)
Titled "Designed to Break You: Human Rights Violations on Texas' Death Rows," the 48-page report calls for a sweeping array of changes in the operation of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice centered on policies related to the use of solitary confinement as a punitive measure and access to healthcare. Texas death row inmates spend an average of more than 14 years awaiting execution in solitary confinement, posited by UT-Austin researchers as akin to torture, an assessment shared by several human rights organizations.
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the number of death row inmates is nearly 250. Among recommendations outlined in the University of Texas School of Law report is an end of solitary confinement for prisoners suffering from mental illness or physical disabilities, enhanced healthcare access, provision of religious services and greater access to outdoor recreation. The upshot: "Conditions on death row at TDCJ's Polunsky Unit must be remedied posthaste," the report's authors concluded. In 1999, Texas reintroduced the practice of mandatory solitary confinement - total segregation of individuals confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day - for every individual convicted of capital murder. The practice bans recreation or eating with other inmates as death row inmates are confined to cells of average size of 8 feet by 12 feet in size, the report's authors noted. The cells consist only of a sink, toilet and 30-inch wide steel bunk with a thin plastic mattress, according to the findings. Most include a small window, but inmates are only able to see oudoors by rolling up their mattresses to stand on them, according to the report. "Every individual on Texas' death row thus spends approximately 23 hours a day in complete isolation for the entire duration of their sentence, which, on average, lasts more than a decade," researchers found. "This prolonged solitary confinement has overwhelmingly negative effects on inmates' mental health, exacerbating existing mental health conditions and causing many prisoners to develop mental illness for the 1st time." The lack of access to religious services also is covered in the report. Christian Bibles are the only religious materials available from the prison chaplain in Texas, according to the report. But even for Christian inmates needed theological counsel, access to ministers is rarely provided save for the holiday season, according to the findings.
"For inmates of different faiths, such as Islam or Judaism, the situation is more difficult as they must solely rely on outside sources for their religious materials. They are provided with no access to practice their chosen faith, and are often met with contempt when seeking such access," authors found. "This has created a harsh environment for inmates who do not adhere to Christianity, and has enabled a discriminatory system on the basis of religion on Texas' death row."