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Use of Solitary in Our County Jails

Jun 24th, 2013 | Category: Conditions in County Jails

Over Use of Seclusion for Mentally Ill Inmates in Texas County Jails

An Iraq war veteran with serious mental illnesses sat in seclusion in the Comal County Jail for six months during 2011. Despite this former Marine’s condition, the county did not treat him or even coax him out of his cell as he became increasingly paranoid and despondent. Now, he has been returned to that solitary cell while the county delays his trial.

A mentally ill woman in her 50s was held in solitary confinement in a small East Texas jail (Hardin County) much of 2012, despite her family’s pleas for treatment or release to a local facility. Her sister described the effect in her emails:

Ms. Claitor, my sister has been locked in that jail cell alone for 7 months.  She communicates with no one. Is it legal to take someone mentally ill and lock them away in a 6 x 9 cell for 23 hours a day, like a mad dog, and expect them to rehabilitate or improve? Her eyes bulge and she is terrified. I challenge any judge or jailer to be forced to live this way for one month. They couldn’t handle it.”

Texas Jail Project regularly hears from families reporting similar cases about loved ones with mental disorders who are incarcerated in isolation inside local jails for months on end. Despite ample research demonstrating that this seclusion (also known as solitary confinement, administrative segregation, or isolation) is extremely harmful and increases the likelihood of suicide, it is being over-used to house, control, and even punish mentally ill persons in many county facilities.

Decompensation and suicide is a frequent result. From 2009 through 2012, 255 people died in Texas county jails. Of the 88 inmates who killed themselves, some 53%–47 individuals–were known to be housed in single cells. Jails using best practices avoid placing mentally ill people in isolation, and their suicide rates decline.

Of course, jails are not where people with mental illness should be in the first place, and we all know that jails lack the funding, facilities, and trained officers to care for them. However, until real and permanent solutions are found for mentally ill Texans, jail administrators must find ways to protect these vulnerable inmates, in part by reducing the use of indefinite isolation.

We call for more scrutiny, reporting, and oversight, to prevent the over use of solitary confinement for mentally ill inmates.

Contact: Diana Claitor, director


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bryan moore
7 years ago

I have a son in dallas county. each time i visit he gets more despondent, paranoid, and figity. it’s like watching a loved one slowly disappear mentally. what can i do for him? thank you, bryan

bryan moore
  bryan moore
7 years ago

oh by the way, he is in solitary and he never leaves his cell.

7 years ago

My life was threatened by a Sheriff Deputy while I was in Hardin County and when I brought it to the attention of a judge when I was finally allowed to see one after being there all weekend for a simple open container the judge laughed it off as if was nothing. They are corrupt there and feel untouchable, so if you have familly there I wish you good luck dealing with them.