Every year, Texas prison officials take hundreds convicts that have spent, on average, three-and-a-half years confined to a 60-square-foot box for 23 hours a day and sends them right back to the streets.
This abrupt change from total isolation to total freedom clearly isn't good for prisoners or their transition back into society. In solitary, these inmates can't access classes or other services to prepare for the outside world. And, according to an investigation published earlier this year by the ACLU of Texas, more than 2,000 inmates confined to isolation cells in Texas prisons are on the prison system's mental health case load. For many, that means the punishment only exacerbates an underlying mental illness.
What's more, according to the Texas Legislative Budget Board, is that straight solitary-to-streets releases appear to be bad for public safety. While some 49 percent of all prisoners released by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will end up rearrested and back behind bars, for offenders released straight from isolation the number that will re-offend is more than 60 percent.
The problem isn't isolated to Texas. Prisons across the country release thousands of convicts directly from solitary back into the community every year, according to a joint investigation by the Marshall Project and NPR this week. Twenty-four states, including Texas, released more than 10,000 inmates straight from solitary confinement. Nationally speaking, it's impossible to know how big the problem is – 24 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons don't track how many prisoners they release straight from isolation cells.
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But the problem looms large in the Lone Star State. TDCJ confines 4.4 percent of its prison population in solitary confinement cells, where inmates have little human contact. According to the ACLU's report, that means Texas locks up more people in solitary than twelve other states house in their entire prison systems. That means sky-high prisoner-on-staff assault rates; over the past seven years, assaults on TDCJ prison staff have increased 104 percent and Texas's largest correctional officers union credits that rise on the overuse of solitary confinement.
TDCJ's own records show that since 2011 Texas prisons have released at least 5,200 convicts straight from solitary to the community. More than 3,000 of those inmates aren't subject to any supervision program upon their release – unlike those who've been paroled, these inmates have simply maxed out their sentences.
You can read the ACLU's entire report on solitary confinement in Texas here: