Texas prison hunger strikers barred from in-person interviews with journalists

The state of Texas has denied journalists face-to-face interviews with inmates who are on hunger strikes in its prisons.

Texas Department of Justice officials initially confirmed an interview at his Allred unit in North Texas with Texas Public Radio, only to later reverse it. The decision came after the unit supervisor approved the visit.

TDCJ then turned down two more interview requests at another facility due to “security concerns.”

An inmate from another unit confirmed that he too had signed the application.

Subsequent discussion with state officials would reveal that there were no safety concerns other than media attention being paid to inmates who were striking to improve their living conditions.

“The visit is refused after consultation with CID [the Correctional Institutions Division]said Amanda Hernandez, director of communications at TDCJ.

“[Officials] may impose restrictions or conditions on media access to the unit if, in the custodian’s judgment, such media access would compromise the security and security of the unit or cause serious operational problems,” the statement said politics.

The protest is being viewed as a disruption, Hernandez said, and they don’t want to give the strikers a “platform” to expand the disruption.

The interpretation makes it impossible to have any type of taped interview with an inmate participating in the strike, to hear their experiences in their own words and voice, as inmates in secure detention are not allowed telephone interviews.

The men’s friends and family continue to have access to striking inmates.

The number of men refusing to eat in protest at the living conditions in state prisons has doubled since last Friday. According to the Texas Department of Justice, 18 men are on hunger strike. The prisoners’ only fast since the strike began on the 10th ended on Monday.

TDCJ considers anyone who refuses food for more than three days to be on a hunger strike. A spokesman for the agency said there were few new inmates and they were mostly people who had previously been involved but broke their fast.

Media seeking interviews were directed to the electronic messaging system contracted by the state, as well as to the postal service. Many have complained of increasing delays in the messaging system, with some messages taking seven days from the time they are sent to when they are received.

The decision to deny media access to face-to-face interviews comes amid allegations of retaliation against the strikers. Some have spoken out about increased room searches and harassment.

One inmate told TPR that he was told by a guard that the protesters were being taken to other facilities.

“I’m not sure if it’s right or not. Could be scaremongering,” the inmate said.

The state has denied intentionally slowing down e-mail delivery, citing large volumes of messages.

Striking prisoners have asked for changes in the way the state uses its “secure detention” or solitary confinement, with the goal of ending its indefinite use.

Several bodies have labeled the use of long-term solitary confinement as “torture” due to the effects on physical and mental health.

Texas has used solitary confinement to separate members of certain prison gangs, or “security threat groups,” from the general population for nearly 40 years. The practice followed a rise in prison violence in the mid-1980s. The number of people held in this way has fallen by 65% ​​over the past 15 years to around 3,100 men. The state is one of only a handful remaining to use status-based determinants such as gang membership.

TDCJ has expressed reluctance to change its system, having previously said the men in these groups are members of violent gangs and cannot be freely recruited.

A handful of bills were introduced in this legislature targeting the practice for curtailment or study.

This is the second hunger strike in 16 months in Texas prisons over the same issue.

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Copyright 2023 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

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