Four death-sentenced men challenge Texas’ solitary confinement policy


Four men sentenced to death in Texas have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state corrections department  alleging that subjecting the 185 men on death row to “mandatory and indefinite solitary confinement [is] a psychologically and physically damaging practice that violates the[ir] federal and state constitutional rights.”

Mark Robertson, George Curry, Tony Egbuna Ford, and Rickey Cummings filed the lawsuit against Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice Executive Director Bryan Collier, Criminal Justice Director Bobby Pumpkin, and death row warden Daniel Dickerson.

“All male death row prisoners in Texas are subjected to a blanket policy restricting them to their 8 by 12 feet cells for 22 to 24 hours a day, during which time they are deprived of human interaction. Texass solitary confinement policy causes severe physical and psychological harm. Indeed, the conditions on Texass death row have been characterized as ‘some of the U.S.s most brutal death row conditions.’ These conditions violate the prisoners constitutional rights,” they state.

The four plaintiffs detail the horrific toll solitary confinement has taken on them.

Mark Robertson is a 54-year-old sentenced to death in 1991. He has spent 21 of his 31 years on death row in solitary confinement. In addition to his physical health deteriorating due to lack of exercise, Robertson has developed symptoms of PTSD and extreme anxiety and stress. 

Fifty-five-year-old George Curry has been on death row since 2014, the past seven of which have been in solitary confinement. As a result, he has developed high blood pressure and chronic liver problems, both exacerbated by the fact he can only see a doctor once a year. He has developed mental health issues, including paranoia and anxiety, and depression.

Tony Egbuna Ford, a 49-year-old prisoner, has been on death row for 28 years and spent the past 22 in solitary confinement. In addition to the physical deterioration brought on by a total lack of activity, he suffers from depression and other mental health difficulties.

Thirty-three-year-old Rickey Cummings has spent the nine years since he was sentenced to death in solitary confinement. He also has had physical issues, including weight gain and hypertension. He has developed anxiety and fears of “feeling imminently under attack.”

Shockingly, not one of these men has been placed in solitary confinement “as a result of any violation of any prison rules,” according to the filing. For each of them, the sole reason was that they had been sentenced to death. 

“The international consensus is that the use of indefinite solitary confinement constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment or treatment,” Merel Pontier writes in her 2020 article, “Cruel but not Unusual: The Automatic use of Indefinite Solitary Confinement on Death Row: A Comparison of the Housing Policies of Death-Sentenced Prisoners and Other Prisoners Throughout the United States,” in the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights.

Death–sentenced prisoners are theoretically entitled to the same procedural safeguards as any other prisoner but are systematically denied that right because of their sentence,” she notes.

If only the courts agreed.

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