HOUSTON (AP) - Texas correctional officials have stopped using solitary confinement to punish prisoners, though they still use another policy to confine dangerous prisoners.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice determined it can operate effectively without using solitary confinement as a punishment, department spokesman Jason Clark told the Houston Chronicle . He said inmates will have other punishments, such as loss of commissary privileges.
The change, made on Sept. 1, affects about 75 prisoners in punitive solitary confinement.
Still, nearly 4,000 state prison inmates remain in "administrative segregation" because of gang affiliations or security threats. Administrative segregation typically involves prisoners being confined to a cell for 22 hours a day, only being released for an hour each of recreation and to shower.
Punitive solitary confinement was limited to 15 days, but administrative segregation could last for months or years.
Matt Simpson, a senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the state agency is masking solitary confinement by calling it administrative segregation.
"I've been concerned about their over-using administrative segregation for years," said Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the Texas Senate's criminal justice committee. "I'm convinced that if you're not emotionally disturbed when you go in there, you will be when you get out."
Texas prison officials have been working to reduce the use of administrative segregation. The number of inmates in administrative segregation decreased from about 7,200 in August 2013 to less than 4,000 in July 2017.
Administrative segregation will continue to be used to keep the most dangerous prisoners away from the rest of the prison population, said Lance Lowry, who heads the Texas Correctional Employees union in Huntsville.
"You still need security detention because the Hannibal Lecters of the world are still out there," Lowry said. "There's still some bad actors in prison that will hurt people."