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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Two Years in Solitary, Texas Inmate Says

HOUSTON (CN) - Texas kept a mentally ill man in solitary confinement for two years without giving him a hearing to appeal the punishment, the man, now free, claims in court.

Nelson Patterson sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, two wardens and a prison captain on Monday in Federal Court.

Patterson says he was in solitary confinement from Nov. 11, 2011 to Nov. 30, 2013 in the W.J. Estelle Unit, a prison in a wooded area north of Huntsville. The prison includes a medical wing where Patterson says he was housed.

During his time in solitary, Patterson says, he lost a lot of weight and suffered bouts of extreme paranoia and anxiety because the segregation aggravated his mental problems.

The 20-page lawsuit does not say why the prison staff put Patterson in solitary, other than that he "suffered from condition(s) which were open and obvious to all persons who interacted with him" and "was incapable of competently representing his own interests before being assigned" to administrative segregation.

Prisons have been known to deny they use solitary confinement at all; they call it administrative segregation.

Patterson says his mental health immediately began to unravel in solitary, and deteriorated as he was "denied reasonable standards of hygiene and medical care," and not even allowed the legally required one hour outside for exercise.

And in violation of the prison system's own rules, Patterson says, he was not given periodic hearings to determine whether he should be moved out of solitary.

Texas' prison system is supposed to review the status of such inmates frequently, its spokesman Robert Hurst said in an email.

"Inmates are only assigned to Ad Seg after an extensive review process, and are periodically reviewed thereafter for reassignment to the general offender population (twice a year by central administration and at least monthly by unit personnel)," Hurst said.

"All offenders placed in Ad Seg receive an initial hearing within seven days of placement at which time the reasons for placement and criteria for release are discussed. Any decision by the unit to continue Ad Seg housing is reviewed by central administration and subject to appeal through the offender grievance process."

Hurst said the number of Texas inmates in solitary has dropped by 40 percent since 2006, and is now less than 4 percent of prisoners. He said the department of prisons does not comment on pending litigation.

Patterson says that because of his mental problems he should have been given an "advocate" to represent him before he was segregated from the general population.

He seeks compensation for lost wages and future earnings, and punitive damages for cruel and unusual punishment, and violations of due process and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

His lawsuit describes his ordeal with boilerplate legalese. His attorney Meagan Hassan declined to give details about what he went through while sitting in a cell for two years. She said it's her firm's policy not to comment on lawsuits until the defendants have been served.

Patterson also sued TDCJ captain Chad Wakefield and wardens Chris Carter and David Sweeten.

The use of solitary confinement, especially for juvenile inmates, and the lasting negative effects it has on people, has come under increased scrutiny in recent years as part of an overall examination of the nation's overpopulated prisons.

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