Black prisoners more likely to be put in solitary, even as overall use declines

The Texas prison system has shifted more than 4,000 inmates out of solitary confinement over the past decade – but those who are still there are increasingly likely to be African-American, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice data.

At the end of the 2008 fiscal year, 17.7 of the prisoners in administrative segregation were black; by the end of the last fiscal year, 24.7 percent were black.

Over the same time frame, the portion of administrative segregation inmates who are white decreased by 4 percentage points and the portion who are Hispanic dropped by just over 3  percentage points. Across all groups, the number of inmates in administrative segregation dropped.

Even as those shifts occurred, the overall prison demographics moved in the opposite direction. The portion of the prison population that is black was about 4 percentage points lower last year than it was in 2008, while a slightly larger fraction of TDCJ inmates are white or Hispanic.

Even though the percentage of black inmates in administrative segregation is on the rise, it’s Hispanic prisoners who are most noticeably overrepresented there. The overall prison population was about a third white, a third Hispanic and a third black as of the end of fiscal 2017 – but roughly half the administrative segregation population is Hispanic, a long-standing trend possibly tied to gang affiliation.

Administrative segregation is used to house prisoners deemed a security threat due to gang affiliation, escape risk or other evidence of ongoing danger to staff or fellow inmates.

The prison system reduced its reliance on administrative segregation through the use of innovative programs like Gang Renouncement and Disassociation. And in September, TDCJ eliminated the use of solitary confinement for punitive purposes, a change that impacted roughly 75 inmates still being isolated for rule-breaking.

A prison spokesman did not offer comment on the reasons behind the changing administrative segregation demographics.

The percent of the Texas prison ad seg population that is African-American has increased over the past decade, even as the total number of prisoners in ad seg has decreased significantly. Photo: Charles Apple

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