Conditions on Death Row in Texas

In an article entitled "Solitary Men" in The Texas Observer, Dave Mann describes the conditions for inmates on Texas's death row.  Inmates in the Polunsky Unit near Livingston, Texas, spend almost their entire time alone in a 60-square-foot cell.  He writes, "The cells have a small window at one end. The steel door has a narrow window and, at the bottom, a slit through which guards slide trays of food. . . .Little penetrates these cement boxes except sound. Prison is a loud place, and sound can cause the most torment. The constant yelling and taunting and clanging doors—what one inmate describes as 'prison ruckus'—never ceases. Occasionally there are dull thuds of beatings and the screams of nearby prisoners descending into madness."  When they do get out for exercise for a short time 5 days a week, they can only exercise alone in adjacent cages.  Some inmates are kept this way for as long as 30 years, though the average stay is closer to 10 before an execution occurs.  Contact visits and televisions are never allowed in what Mann describes as "perhaps the harshest death row conditions in the country."  The article cites a number of studies showing that inmates enduring such solitary confinement conditions often slip into severe mental illness. (photo c. Ken Light).

(D. Mann, "Solitary Men," The Texas Observer, Nov. 10, 2010).  See also Death Row and Time on Death Row.