CRUEL BUT NOT UNUSUAL – THE AUTOMATIC USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON DEATH ROWS
This week, the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights has published a research article written by our legal director Merel about the automatic use of indefinite solitary confinement on death rows across the United States. This is an important publication as research as comprehensive as this one has not been done before.
What is this research about?
It is a comparison between housing policies for death-sentenced individuals and other prisoners throughout the United States. Housing policies by government entities such as TDCJ determine in which security level a people convicted of a crime will be housed when they first enter prison. This research is about the difference in the housing policies for death-sentenced prisoners and other prisoners. The goal was to see whether death-sentenced prisoners are automatically placed in solitary confinement, based on the housing policy, where other prisoners are not.
How was this research done?
There are 27 states with the death penalty in the US. For this research, housing policies in all 27 states had to be looked at in order to make the comparison. Second, the conditions of confinement on death rows had to be researched in order to determine whether that constitutes solitary confinement. We define solitary confinement as confinement of 22 hours a day or more without meaningful human contact. Not every state published their housing policies for its prisons and also not every state published information about the conditions of confinement on death rows. Therefore, capital defense attorneys from all over the country were contacted in order to get information on the conditions on confinement. In the end, a comprehensive overview of the housing policies and all conditions on death row is listed in this research publication.
What was the conclusion of the research?
The conclusion of this research is that 12 out of 27 death penalty automatically house their death-sentenced individuals in solitary confinement. For those people, there is no mechanism for review, meaning they cannot get out of solitary confinement no matter how well they behave. This includes over 900 death-sentenced individuals across the country. In 12 other states, death-sentenced individuals were also automatically placed in a certain custody/security level within the prison, but that security level would not constitute solitary confinement. In order words; those death-sentenced individuals are not automatically placed in solitary confinement. Lastly, there are 3 states that automatically house death-sentenced individuals on death row, but the death row has different security levels and not all levels would constitute solitary confinement. In other words; even though all these people would be housed on death row, they would not necessarily be placed in solitary confinement because there are different security levels on death row. They have a review mechanism and their behavior in prison determines on which level on death row they are placed in.
In comparison, all other prisoners in those 27 death penalty states, meaning prisoners who don’t have a death sentence, are not automatically housed in a certain security/custody level. They all receive individualized assessments that determine which security level fits best for them. There are no automatic placements. That is a clear difference with the housing policies for death-sentenced individuals.
To automatically house someone in solitary confinement automatically, without any chance for review, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates due process. It therefore violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.
Download the entire research publication here. Because the file is too big for the website, we had to create three smaller separate PDFs. Please email us at [email protected] for one PDF file.