TX Death Row Guards Call For Better Treatment of Inmates

Texas death row prison guards at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, TX are calling for an end to solitary confinement and more humane conditions for death row inmates:

Staff leaders say years of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation literally drive inmates mad and make them more likely to wound the guards, riot or attempt escape.

The guards want inmates to be able to share two to a cell and use an iPad or similar computer tablet to watch television on a secure internal network as incentives for good behaviour.


The guards say that that the inmates are driven crazy by conditions and more prone to attack staff.

Mr Lowry said his officers faced danger every day from inmates with “nothing to lose” and it was increasingly common for inmates to throw “bodily fluids” at guards or try to slash them with razor blades. He said plots to riot or escape were “definitely of concern”.

Conditions are abysmal.

The death row offenders live in single person, 60-square-foot cells, with each cell having a window. Death row offenders receive no programming and are not allowed to work. Death row prisoners receive meals through bean slots, gates in the cell doors. Whenever an offender is taken from his cell, such as when the offender goes to take a shower, the offender is strip searched.

There are 300 male inmates in the death row unit at Pulunsky.

< Ex-Congressman Mel Reynolds Arrested in Zimbabwe | Colorado Marijuana Taxes Produce Windfall >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Stunning (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by shoephone on Wed Feb 19, 2014 at 12:04:39 AM EST
    And even if the guards are doing this mostly out of self-preservation, they make a pretty unequivocal statement:

    Staff leaders say years of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation literally drive inmates mad

    And, in U.S prisons as well as at Guantanamo, that seems to be the intention.

    In Texas, the government (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by scribe on Wed Feb 19, 2014 at 06:40:56 PM EST
    knows it can never be too cruel.

    More to the point on the solitary v. two-to-a-cell aspect, the sadists who run prisons have taken to putting two in a cell specifically to cause even greater harm.  This article, on FCI Lewisburg in Pennsylvania, gives an insight into the relatively new practice.  [The author is not a lawyer, so don't expect legal-analysis.]  The people running prisons will never come out and admit they put the Blood and the Crip in the same cell just to make them fight, and to cause PTSD from the constant fear each will have that the other will attack, until the time comes, but that's driving it.

    So, don't be surprised if the guards' plea here gets perverted into something along the lines of FCI Lewisburg.  After all, the wardens were just trying to alleviate the deleterious effects of solitary....

    Countless studies have been done (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by NYShooter on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 11:57:46 AM EST
    regarding the psychological makeup of criminals and law enforcement officers (including prison guards.) The results consistently show that the makeups are, basically, the same. Of course there are exceptions. Not every convicted criminal is a raging monster, and not every policeman is a criminal in disguise.

    But, in layman's terms, society hires one group of anti social thugs to protect us from the other.

    The sad part is that we know that providing inmates with a clean, safe environment results in far less violence while in prison, and, far better chances of reducing recidivism after release. We seem to forget that the punishment for convicted people is loss of freedom, not extra-legal, sadistic punishment meted out by the people charge with keeping everyone safe.

    Link, please. (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by oculus on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 12:08:43 PM EST
    That's an internet rumor (none / 0) (#15)
    by jbindc on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 12:53:35 PM EST
    No, not an internet rumor (none / 0) (#16)
    by shoephone on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 07:44:38 PM EST
    Ever hear of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment? And here's another link to the slide show about the Stanford Experiment. I remember studying about this when I was in high school in the late 70's. And what about the Milgram Experiment about Nazi guards?

    Do I need to provide links to what happened at Abu Graib, or is the memory of that fresh enough?

    There is ample social and scientific study to document what happens psychologically and physically to prisoners--especially those in solitary confinement--and what happens to guards.

    The human psyche is fragile, and can be easily manipulated. Power, control, or the lack of them can wreak havoc on a human being. And prison is the perfect petri dish for exploiting those factors. To claim otherwise is ridiculous.


    There are still a large number (none / 0) (#17)
    by jondee on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 08:26:26 PM EST
    of people deeply emotionally invested in the idea that inflicting pain, instilling fear in, and in-effect, dehumanizing people is in harmony with the way people learn life's most valuable lessons.

    I'm going to go out on a limb and hypothesize that most of the people who think along those lines had a "Kansas" kind of upbringing.


    Absolutely. The sadists walk among us. (5.00 / 2) (#19)
    by shoephone on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 09:28:20 PM EST
    Ever since I moved out of the Seattle city limits, I've come into contact with more and more eye-for-an-eye law and order types. And though their views repulse me, most are still not half as bad as the Old Testament bible thumpers in other regions of the country.

    We all have the capacity for compassion and caring, and we all have the capacity for aggression and twisted enjoyment of inflicting pain. The difference between the two is taking five seconds to identify what it means to be a victim or perpetrator. Because, even when the justice system holds perpetrators accountable for their crimes, the constitution requires the punishment not be "cruel and unusual." Inflicting pain on incarcerated prisoners makes us criminals. But it seems that, for many, the constitution has become quaint, and only certain civil liberties matter.


    Wrong (none / 0) (#20)
    by jbindc on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 07:47:26 AM EST
    That study was about how some captors can become sadistic when put in power over others, not that criminals and law enforcement officers have the same personality traits, which is what NYShooter claimed (and has not given the backup links). (And of course, there were many criticisms of the study such as bias, lack of scientific controls, not reproducable, and of course, Zimbardo himself was not a neutral observer to the experiment, thereby directing the players and having some control over the outcome).

    If you can show actual, credible studies that show those in jail / prison have what NYShooter actually claims, then please link to them.


    Exactly... (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 09:41:56 AM EST
    ...trying to tie that into what has been presented as 'common knowledge' is a reach at best and certainly could never be related to what actually happens on death row.

    That was one controlled study where the 'guards' has no training and/or rules and the inmates were actually students, not criminals.  It was more of a study of human behavior than actual prison life behavior.


    The prisons and jails (none / 0) (#18)
    by jondee on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 08:38:08 PM EST
    are overflowing with inmates who "took justice into their own hands"; who thought they were righting a wrong by inflicting punishment on someone.

    Traditionally, what the state and it's oh-so-efficient functionaries have said is, in-effect, "you all have the right idea, but let us take care of it".


    Lets change that to: (none / 0) (#22)
    by jondee on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 02:49:25 PM EST
    the makeup of brutal, vengeful, mercenary, apathetic guards, cops, administrators and prosecutors is the same as, or enough the same as, the makeup of brutal, vengeful etc inmates.

    And claiming I was just following orders, or my job requires it, or, I beieved it was for the greater good was already tried at Nuremburg. That sort of equivocation didn't pass muster then and it doesn't now.


    Interesting (2.00 / 2) (#23)
    by jbindc on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 03:48:52 PM EST
    You leave out on part of the equation.  Since you're making broad sweeping (and incorrect) assumptions about large classes of people, how come you don't mention the corrupt criminal defense attorneys who help their clients manipulate the system and pervert justice?

    See how fun making sweeping generalizations is?


    Wow. (5.00 / 2) (#24)
    by shoephone on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 09:04:36 PM EST
    What an appalling retort. You really do seem to have a vicious hatred of inmates, criminal defendants, and defense attorneys. How many of the first ten amendments would you like to rescind, anyway?

    Your somewhat predictable (5.00 / 2) (#26)
    by jondee on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 09:12:33 AM EST
    defensiveness blinded you to the main point which was, simply, that brutality and callousness are brutality and callousness. As they say, this ain't rocket science. At least not for some.

    Branch of my family (none / 0) (#25)
    by Mikado Cat on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 11:58:56 PM EST
    were prison guards. Main trait, very even temper, and a tolerance for being behind bars all day. Most of them saw their job as maintaining order first, but just below that keeping the inmates from killing each other.

    How many (none / 0) (#2)
    by Mikado Cat on Wed Feb 19, 2014 at 01:54:33 AM EST
    days do you think it would be before somebody is killed sharing a cell, if they do start sharing?

    Oh, honestly! (5.00 / 4) (#6)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Wed Feb 19, 2014 at 05:15:23 PM EST
    Do you have any idea what solitary confinement in prison actually means? Of course not, because if you did, you wouldn't be offering up such an over-the-top hypothetical as an excuse to continue ignoring the problem and doing nothing about it.

    People need to get over the notion that the humane treatment of custodial prisoners is somehow a sign of weakness on our society's part. Those who are held in public custody have absolutely no power over their daily routine and lives. But while they can't hurt us, sad to say the reverse isn't necessarily true.

    Yes, absolutely, I'll agree that a lot of people who are in prison are there because they've committed some truly horrific and depraved acts. But while we have every right to ensure that such prisoners don't adversely impact any more innocent lives, we enjoy no divine right to subject them to extra-legal punishment and retribution above and beyond that already mandated by the courts at their sentencing.

    What does it say about us as a society, that we would continue to countenance their abuse, and at the very hands of those we've entrusted to keep and maintain them in custody?



    In my experience representing a state dept. (none / 0) (#7)
    by oculus on Wed Feb 19, 2014 at 05:47:15 PM EST
    of corrections, this is a rare occurrence.

    Lucky you don't work for ... (none / 0) (#9)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Wed Feb 19, 2014 at 09:42:28 PM EST
    ... the Hawaii Dept. of Public Safety. Our prisons have long been rather notorious amongst people in the know, and have been subjected twice to a federal consent decree during the time I've lived here.

    When I served as chief clerk for the House Committee on Public Safety, I was shocked by the prisoner abuse, particularly within the Office of Youth Services, which oversaw the juvenile facilities. It was so bad that we were compelled by the feds to transfer OYS from the Dept. of Public Safety to the Dept. of Human Services, in order to satisfy one of the demands of the court-appointed special master.

    I've said this before -- you do not ever want to run seriously afoul of Hawaii law, because what potentially awaits you will never be mistaken for Waikiki Beach.



    Of course, the Department of Corrections & (none / 0) (#10)
    by oculus on Wed Feb 19, 2014 at 09:48:27 PM EST
    Rehabilitation and Jerry Brown in his official capacity are under rhe thumb of a court-appointed trsutee as to medical and mental health care provided to state inmates. But the issue isn't two inmate cells. It's triple bunks in the rec. rooms.

    Site violator (none / 0) (#4)
    by oculus on Wed Feb 19, 2014 at 05:31:34 AM EST

    And so politely... reminds me of India ! (none / 0) (#11)
    by gbrbsb on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 08:56:02 AM EST
    Envisioning head nodding thingee. (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by oculus on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 10:49:29 AM EST
    Interesting. Zimbardo's prison experiment (none / 0) (#5)
    by Mr Natural on Wed Feb 19, 2014 at 11:33:17 AM EST
    finally reaches a limit.  Did Texas fail to qualify their staff, as properly sociopathic, or is this an aftereffect of the murder of Colorado Prison Chief Clements at the hand of Colorado "administrative segregation" survivor Evan Ebel?

    From the Hufpost story on the case:

    The notion that isolation harms the human psyche is hardly new. Solitary confinement started in U.S. prisons in the 1820s as a social experiment by Quakers seeking a more humane alternative to prison amputations and the death penalty. The theory, which Quakers soon disavowed, was that criminals would rehabilitate after long periods of introspection.