The average amount of time that death row inmates spend on death row has ballooned over the past decade, and for death row inmates in the state of Texas, the entire duration of that increased time will be spent in solitary confinement. This raises the following question: Is solitary confinement now considered to be part of the punishment, one that may be worse than the death penalty itself?
This article discusses the history of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and cites scientific literature which posits that long-term solitary confinement can cause serious psychological damage. It examines “death row syndrome,” a term that refers to the psychological illness or disorder exhibited by an inmate who has spent a prolonged period of time in harsh conditions on death row. The article reviews the Polunsky Unit, which currently houses Texas’s death row and has been described as one of the worst prisons in the United States. The article also discusses the long history of Lackey claims, which allege that prolonged confinements under a death sentence breach the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The unresolved dissent within the Supreme Court regarding this subject is presented and discussed. This article contends that the prolonged solitary confinement of a Texas inmate on death row is a violation of the Eighth Amendment, and concludes that the only solution is to end the practice of automatic and permanent solitary confinement.