Bill would require independent review of solitary confinement in Texas

On May 21, 2013, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would require an independent review of solitary confinement in Texas prisons and juvenile detention facilities. Supporters of the proposed legislation hope that information gathered through a review would shine a light on how solitary confinement (also known as administrative segregation) is used and its impact on adults and juveniles convicted of a crime, as well as Texas taxpayers.

According to the Texas Tribune, Senate Bill 1003, approved by the House in late May, calls for a "legislative oversight committee to hire an independent party to review solitary confinement" in adult and juvenile detention facilities in Texas. However, the Austin American Statesman reports that the designated committee lost funding in 2009. Representative Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) last led the committee, and after the measure was passed he said, "Who'll do the report? I guess I'll have to pick someone," according to the Statesman.

Sponsors of the bill say it is important to better understand the use of solitary confinement and how it affects inmates. For example, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department reports that more than 50 percent of its residents have a mental health diagnosis, and state records show that juveniles were placed in administrative segregation 36,820 times in 2012, according to KUT News. How does this affect their mental health?

It would be beneficial to know if the individuals being placed in administrative segregation have a mental health diagnosis, and if so, whether it would be better for the individuals — as well as for taxpayers — if those individuals received treatment elsewhere, supporters say. It costs more to isolate inmates in administrative segregation, so using the option less frequently would likely save taxpayer money.

KUT News reported that around 7,700 inmates were in solitary confinement in Texas detention facilities as of March 2013, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice information. This translates to more than 5 percent of Texas' total prison population, compared to the national rate of about 2 percent.

Administrative segregation falls on the more extreme end of the spectrum of tools used in corrections systems, and many youths who encounter the Texas juvenile justice system will never come close to experiencing it. However, it is important to ensure that all tools are used appropriately.

If your child is accused of committing a crime, it is invaluable to have the guidance of a criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with the Texas juvenile justice system. There are unique aspects to every case, and an attorney with experience in juvenile cases also knows the unique characteristics of the juvenile system. An attorney can help you seek the best possible outcome for your child.