Texas Human Rights Group Says Mandatory Solitary Confinement Is Torture

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelApril 26, 2017 11:39 am

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) holds all death row prisoners in mandatory solitary confinement. Ariel Dulitzky, director of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, says prisoners can spend 22 to 23 hours in a cell that is probably no bigger than 8-by-12-feet. 

The clinic released a report this week that said long-term solitary confinement is a form of torture.

“Under International Humans Rights Law, you cannot have a person in solitary confinement for more than 15 days,” she says. “In Texas we keep inmates for sometimes two decades, sometimes three decades. The average of inmates on death row is 14.5 years.” 

Dulitzky says the TDCJ began using mandatory solitary confinement in 1999 after seven inmates attempted to escape over Thanksgiving in 1998.

“The internal report of TDCJ was due to the lack of enough staff on Thanksgiving Day,” she says. “Many of the staffers were allowed to go and have dinner with their families and that’s when the inmates attempted to escape. But rather than adopting additional measures to provide more security, what they did was to establish mandatory solitary confinement.”

The TDCJ said in a statement to the Standard that offenders on death row are people who have been convicted of heinous crimes and received the harshest possible sentence the law allows. It adds the agency will “continue to fulfill its mission of public safety and house death row offenders appropriately.”

Some 2,000 public charter school advocates are expected to converge on the state capitol today. The Texas Charter Schools Association is hosting a rally to advocate for things like state funding for school facilities.

Gov. Greg Abbott and a number of other state lawmakers are scheduled to speak.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson is no stranger to firsts. She’s the first woman to command the International Space Station.

And earlier this week, she set a record for the most days an American has spent in space. Now, she’s going to help the Houston Texans achieve their own first. Houston Public Media’s Eddie Robinson has more:

During this week’s NFL Draft in Philadelphia the Houston Texans will shake things up a bit on day 3 by having their picks announced from outer space.

Commander Peggy Whitson will send the day three selections down to earth. Astronaut Scott Kelly will be at NASA waiting to receive the selections from Whitson to pass on the official announcement to the public.

This is the first time in NFL history that draft picks will be beamed down from space.