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A Thin Line - The Texas Prison Healthcare Crisis and the Secret Death Penalty, Texas Civil Rights Project, 2011

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A TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT
HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT
2011

“A THIN LINE”
The Texas Prison Healthcare Crisis and
The Secret Death Penalty
“Right now the [health care] system is constitutional… but we’re on a thin line.” 1
– Dr. Ben Raimer, Former Chief Physician Executive for UTMB Correctional Managed
Care

Special thanks to Lindsey Smith, Joseph P. Berra, Kelly Burns, Lauren Conner,
Serine Consolino, James C. Harrington, Andrew Johnson, Christopher Johnston, Scott Medlock,
Christina Muniz, Lauren Pitts, Zaida Riquelme, Erica Surprenant, Lonnie Williams, and
Vinson & Elkins, LLP.

Texas Civil Rights Project
The Michael Tigar Human Rights Center
1405 Montopolis Drive
Austin, TX 78741

Texas Civil Rights Project Board of Directors
Pablo Almaguér, Roxann Chargois, Ouisa Davis, Leona Diener,
David A. Grenardo, Chuck Herring, and Renato Ramirez

www.texascivilrightsproject.org
(512) 474 5073 (phone) (512) 474 0726 (fax)

© Texas Civil Rights Project, 2011
All Rights Reserved

TABLE OF CONTENTS
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ...............................................................................................................1
METHODOLOGY ............................................................................................................................2
INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................................................3
Medical horror story: David West .........................................................................................3
LEGAL HISTORY OF PRISON HEALTHCARE IN TEXAS ........................................................6
Historical Overview of Medical Care in Texas Prisons.........................................................6
Prisoners’ Right to Medical Care under the U.S. Constitution ..............................................6
Managed Health Care in Prisons and Potential Violations of the U.S. Constitution .............9
Conclusion .............................................................................................................................9
CURRENT MEDICAL CARE IN TEXAS PRISONS .....................................................................11
Prisoners’ Rights to Medical Care under Texas Government Code ......................................11
Contractual problems .................................................................................................12
QUALITY OF CARE ........................................................................................................................15
Medical horror story: Larry Louis Cox ..................................................................................15
Accountability ........................................................................................................................15
Provider attitudes ...................................................................................................................17
Infrastructure ..........................................................................................................................17
Telemedicine: a partial solution .............................................................................................18
Recommendations: .................................................................................................................19
ACCESS TO CARE ..........................................................................................................................20
Medical horror story: Adam Whitford ...................................................................................20
i

Distribution of medication .....................................................................................................20
Communication breakdown ...................................................................................................21
Treatment delays ....................................................................................................................21
Recommendations: .................................................................................................................22
PROBLEM AREAS...........................................................................................................................23
OVERCROWDING IN TEXAS PRISONS ......................................................................................23
Overview ................................................................................................................................23
Overly harsh sentencing laws ................................................................................................24
Dishonest fiscal notes ............................................................................................................25
Chronic failure of the Board of Pardons and Paroles ............................................................26
An aging prison population....................................................................................................28
Recommendations ..................................................................................................................29
MENTAL HEALTH ..........................................................................................................................30
Medical horror story: Josh Dillard .........................................................................................30
Overview of mentally ill prisoners ........................................................................................31
Available mental healthcare ...................................................................................................32
Negative effects of prison ......................................................................................................33
Recommendations ..................................................................................................................34
INFECTIOUS DISEASE ...................................................................................................................35
Medical horror stories: H1N1 and norovirus .........................................................................35
Hepatitis .................................................................................................................................36
Tuberculosis ...........................................................................................................................37
ii

HIV/AIDS ..............................................................................................................................37
Staphylococcus ......................................................................................................................38
Preventative methods .............................................................................................................39
Recommendations: .................................................................................................................39
CONCLUSION ..................................................................................................................................41
APPENDIX ........................................................................................................................................42
Medical Horror Stories ..........................................................................................................42
Micah Burrell .............................................................................................................42
Donald Novel .............................................................................................................42
Juan Palote .................................................................................................................44
ABOUT THE TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT ..........................................................................45
NOTES ...............................................................................................................................................47

iii

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Texas is well known for executing more prisoners than any other state. Executions are the public
death penalty—they take place with transparency.
Texas, however, also practices a “secret” death penalty. Prisoners are killed and maimed in
Texas by appalling medical care.
Texas incarcerates approximately 154,000 people in 112 Texas Department of Criminal Justice
(TDCJ) prisons around the state. The Federal Constitution requires Texas to provide basic
medical care for prisoners’ serious medical conditions. In the past, federal courts have had to
monitor Texas prisons for grossly failing to meet this basic humane obligation.
Texas is now facing a return to the “bad old days” when the courts had to intervene in prison
health care. Texas pays just $9.88 per prisoner per day for health care, compared with $28.55
per prisoner per day in California—which is already under judicial supervision and has been
ordered to release over 40,000 prisoners so the remaining inmates can receive constitutional care.
In this legislative session, the Governor has asked all state agencies to make significant cuts to
their budgets. Prison health care will be a tempting target—prisoners have no powerful lobby,
and are an easy political punching bag. Indeed, legislators have proposed slashing the prison
health care budget by almost 25 percent. Texas would pay $6.00 a day, or less, per prisoner on
health care.
This would be disastrous. Balancing budgets on prisoners’ backs now invites far more expensive
federal intervention later. California has been required to pay billions of dollars to make its
prison health care constitutionally adequate because of short-sighted planning.
To avoid federal court intervention and expensive upgrades later, there are very low-cost reforms
Texas could enact now. A small number of elderly, extremely sick prisoners account for a very
large percentage of the total health care costs. Paroling these low-risk prisoners so they can be
cared for in the community, while still monitored by the state, would create substantial savings.
The majority of TDCJ prisoners are parole eligible and incarcerated for non-violent crimes. If
Texas (and the Board of Pardons and Parole) thought more carefully about who it imprisons (and
for how long), it could save substantial amounts of taxpayer dollars without compromising
public safety.
This legislative session represents an opportunity for Texas. Our representatives can continue to
follow expensive, failed “tough on crime” policies, or become “smart on crime,” incarcerating
the most dangerous criminals while working to re-integrate non-violent offenders into society.
The best way to solve the prison health care crisis, and to end the secret death penalty, is to stop
relying on extended incarceration as our only crime-control policy.

1

METHODOLOGY
The Texas Civil Rights Project’s Prisoners’ Rights Program has reviewed thousands of
complaints from inmates in Texas prisons and jails. We have tracked individual complaints
electronically since 2009 with the Client Tracking System (CTS). CTS allows us to collect and
record specific data on the types of complaints prisoners make, demographic and geographical
data from each complaint, and anecdotal evidence of conditions in Texas prisons and jails.
TCRP’s Prisoners’ Rights Program has also conducted an exhaustive review of other available
resources, including evaluations of prison operations conducted by the Texas Legislature’s
Sunset Advisory Commission, major newspapers, and criminal justice experts.
The goal of this report and its contributors is to provide information and make recommendations
to improve the quality of healthcare provided to prisoners in Texas through cost-effective
remedies.

2

INTRODUCTION
Medical horror story: David West
David West 2 died a horrific death at age 34 while serving a four-year sentence at the
McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas for larceny and assault convictions. At 8:40 a.m. on May 19,
2003, two correctional officers escorted Mr. West to the E-Pod showers. After his twentyminute shower, the officers returned to re-shackle Mr. West’s wrists to take him back to his cell
several hundred yards away, but Mr. West allegedly refused. The officers removed the other
inmates from the showers and continued on their rounds, forgetting Mr. West alone in a cloud of
hot steam.
At 9:40 a.m., one of the guards on duty made a call, requesting a supervisor to check up
on Mr. West. When the supervisor arrived, he glanced through the shower window and observed
Mr. West slouching on the wet floor, his hands limp on his chest and a washcloth covering his
face. According to the supervisor, Mr. West appeared to be breathing. Several officers, none of
whom bothered to enter the shower to physically examine Mr. West, tried to rouse him by calling
his name; but Mr. West did not stir.
The officers then called in the prison medical staff to evaluate the situation. A nurse
arrived on the scene, but, like the officers, did not enter the shower. Instead, she decided to
evaluate the situation through the tray slot on the shower door. Through the haze of steam, she
declared that Mr. West was “faking” and that, “if he had fallen, he would not be in the position
he was currently in.” The prison staff left Mr. West unconscious in the shower with hot water
streaming over his body and continued on their rounds.
At 10:35 a.m., the sergeant on duty instructed the prison staff to keep watch on Mr. West.
The staff immediately reported back that Mr. West was not breathing. Almost two hours after
Mr. West's shower began the sergeant was the first person to take the time to physically evaluate
him. The sergeant went to the shower pod, opened the door, and discovered Mr. West, his body
red and distressed, collapsed on the floor. He was not breathing. Attempts at resuscitation
failed, and Mr. West was pronounced dead at 10:45 a.m.
An autopsy later revealed Mr. West had literally been cooked alive—the two-hour long
exposure to water temperatures in excess of 150 degrees Fahrenheit had devastated his internal
organs and caused heart failure. Mr. West’s body temperature was at least 107.9 degrees – the
thermometer could not read any higher. 3
The terrible indifference that caused David West’s death was not an isolated incident;
rather, it is indicative of a systemic problem within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
regarding the medical care Texas provides to prisoners.

3

TDCJ PRISONER COMPLAINTS
TCRP divides prisoner complaints into
the above categories.

“Conditions” complaints deal with
general problems in the prisons, such
as unsanitary food, insect infestations,
mold infestations, etc.

“Criminal” complaints include any
issues with the prisoner’s criminal
trial (such as ineffective lawyers,
prosecutorial and police misconduct,
etc.), and include claims of actual
innocence.
“Medical” complaints deal with
medical care provided to the prisoner
while in custody.

“Classification” complaints generally
include issues with prisoners’ goodconduct time and custody status.
“Disability”
complaints
address
problems with programs and services
that prisoners with disabilities cannot
access (such as failures to provide
sign-language interpreters for the
deaf, etc.).

“Excessive force” complaints involve
prisoners’ claims they were unjustly
injured by prison staff.

“General civil” issues are civil legal
problems unrelated to the prisoner’s
incarceration, such as divorce, child
custody, inheritance, etc.

“Parole” issues include claims that a
prisoner should have been released
on parole.

“Religious liberty” complaints allege
a prisoner is not being allowed to
practice his or her religious beliefs.

“Safety” complaints involve prisoners
concerns that the prison environment
is not safe for them, and include
complaints they have been threatened
by other prisoners or prison staff.

“Sexual assault” complains allege a
prisoner has been sexually assaulted
by prison staff or fellow prisoners.
“Other” includes complaints that do
not fit within any other category.

The Texas Civil Rights Project, a statewide non-profit
organization, receives hundreds of letters from individuals
incarcerated in Texas prisons. About one fifth of these letters
describe problems obtaining medical care and troubling
medical practices. This percentage is almost equal that of
complaints about criminal convictions, the issue that one
would expect to be most prisoners’ primary concern.

Complaints of TDCJ Inmates (2009)
Other
6% (44)

Sexual Assault
Racial 2% (14)
Discrimination
0% (2)
General Civil
6% (40)

Conditions
10% (72)

Classification
3% (21)

Parole
11% (80)

Excessive
Force
9% (61)
Safety
7% (52) Disability
2% (14)

Medical
18% (132)

Criminal
24% (170)

Religious
Liberty
2% (12)

Total Complaints: 714

The letters come from many different parts of the
TDCJ 112-unit system throughout Texas and provide a
disturbing picture of medical care available throughout the
state, from difficulty obtaining medication for serious
conditions to the inattentiveness of medical personnel in
response to emergency situations. When medical personnel
responded to Mr. West’s situation, the nurse “diagnosed” him
through the tray slot of a steamy shower. The correctional
officers relied on the nurse’s medical expertise to make a
decision on how to effectively manage the situation. This
indifference ultimately cost David West his life and similar
mistakes are costing the lives and health of many others in the
Texas prison system.
Texas has created a “secret death penalty”: poor
medical care can turn temporary imprisonment for relatively
minor offenses into a death sentence.
4

In this report, we accumulate information from a variety of sources to create a complete
picture of the travesty of health care in Texas' prisons. We outline the history of Texas prison
healthcare and the legal guidelines that determine what “constitutional care” means. Then we
cover basic problems in quality of and access to care and explore in depth those issues that are
particularly pressing in today's prisons in Texas: overcrowding, mental health care, and
infectious disease.
Because of the Texas Civil Rights Project's role as an advocate for prisoners who have
suffered health-related injustices, we have access to the invaluable resource of those prisoners'
stories. The medical horror stories interspersed throughout the report and gathered in the
appendix were initially received as complaints from prisoners or their families and confirmed
through our investigations. They represent a small sampling of the appalling stories we receive
on a daily basis from Texas prisoners and their families. Unfortunately, we only have resources
to confront a small number of these atrocities, but it is our conviction that broad institutional
solutions are needed to address these troubling injustices.
In 2001, an Austin-American Statesman exposé on TDCJ’s medical care program called it
“a $297 million-a-year-business paid for with public money but immune from any meaningful
public scrutiny.” 4 The Texas Civil Rights Project aims to bring this much-needed public scrutiny
to the issue of prison healthcare by evaluating the state of medical care in Texas prisons and
highlighting the most pressing issues therein. The inadequate medical care that killed David
West, and that has killed, injured, and disabled many more Texans is a violation of both basic
human rights and civil rights. By exposing these problems and offering meaningful
recommendations, we hope to stop Texas’ “secret death penalty” once and for all, and raise
healthcare conditions to a constitutionally acceptable level for people who are not just inmates,
but citizens of Texas and the United States.
Texas Department
of Criminal Justice

TDCJ Prison Unit locations –
TDCJ incarcerates 154,000
prisoners in 112 prisons
around the state.

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LEGAL HISTORY OF PRISON HEALTHCARE IN TEXAS
Historical Overview of Medical Care in Texas Prisons
Since the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the United States Constitution has protected
the rights of prisoners: the Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.”
Actually protecting those rights, however, is a fairly recent development.
In the “early years of the Republic,” American judges were aware of harsh prison
conditions but did not view the Eighth Amendment as protecting prisoners from cruel treatment. 5
During this time, lower courts usually dismissed prisoner complaints on the theory that courts
had no business interfering with prison management. 6 Further, prisoners were actually regarded
by some courts as “slave[s] of the State.” 7
This “hands off” approach continued until the late 1960s and early 1970s, when “judicial
expansion of civil rights . . . enabled litigants to bring complaints against prisons and finally
persuaded federal courts to intervene.” 8 Prior to the mid-twentieth century, the federal
constitution only protected citizens from the federal government because the Supreme Court had
not “incorporated” the Bill of Rights to apply it to the states. In 1976, the Supreme Court applied
the Eighth Amendment to a state prisoner’s grievance for the first time, holding that harsh
conditions and lack of medical care constituted cruel and unusual punishment. 9 This recognition
that “prisoners were entitled to minimum constitutional standards during their confinement”
spurred courts across the country to begin ordering prison reforms. 10
Prisoners’ Right to Medical Care under the U.S. Constitution
The Supreme Court, in Estelle v. Gamble, established “the government’s obligation to
provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by incarceration.” 11 In Estelle, an inmate of
the Texas Department of Corrections (“TDC”) 12 sued the Director of the TDC, the warden of the
prison, and the chief medical officer of the prison hospital. The inmate suffered an injury while
on a prison work assignment and brought a lawsuit alleging that the subsequent medical
treatment, or lack thereof, violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by subjecting
him to cruel and unusual punishment. 13
The Supreme Court stated that even though “the primary concern of the drafters [of the
Eighth Amendment] was to proscribe ‘tortur[ous]’ and other ‘barbar[ic]’ methods of punishment,
… the Amendment proscribes more than physically barbarous punishments.” 14 The Court held
that certain penal measures violate the Eighth Amendment when they are contrary to “evolving
standards of decency” or “involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” 15
Estelle prohibited the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, proscribed by the
Eighth Amendment.” 16 A prisoner’s constitutional right is violated by prison doctors or prison
guards who deny, delay, or interfere with medical treatment.

6

Judge Justice

Though he died in 2009, prisoners
still write to TCRP hoping that
Judge William Wayne Justice will
be able to hear their case.
A native of Athens, Texas, Judge
Justice was appointed to the
federal bench by President
Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1968.

In Ruiz v. Estelle, Judge Justice
forever changed how TDCJ
operates. Many of the changes his
court ordered are still standard
TDCJ procedure today. His rulings
vastly improved the lives of Texas
prisoners.

In addition to his work in Ruiz,
Judge Justice also presided over
many other important civil rights
cases.
He
ordered
the
desegregation of Texas public
schools and public housing, and
required
undocumented
immigrant children be provided a
public education.
He also
protected the rights of juvenile
prisoners incarcerated in the
Texas Youth Commission in
Morales v. Turman.
Judge Justice’s work on behalf of
the downtrodden did not make
him popular in East Texas.
Repairmen refused to work at his
house. His family received death
threats.

Despite it all, Judge Justice saw his
duty to protect people’s civil
rights.
"I
was
never
underprivileged, but I have human
feelings. If you see someone in
distress, well, you want to help
them if you can."

Since Estelle, however, courts have consistently made it
very difficult for a prisoner to win a suit alleging deficient
medical care. Farmer v. Brennan, decided eighteen years after
Estelle, held that “a prison official cannot be found liable under
the Eighth Amendment . . . unless the official knows of and
disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the
official must both be aware of facts from which the inference
could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and
he must also draw the inference.” 17 The Court explained that
“act[ing] with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of
serious harm to a prisoner is the equivalent of recklessly
disregarding that risk,” 18 and furthermore, that “a factfinder may
conclude that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the
very fact that the risk was obvious.” 19
Ruiz v. Estelle 20 is the seminal U.S. Fifth Circuit case
dealing with prison conditions in Texas, decided after Estelle v.
Gamble, but before Farmer v. Brennan. In a speech at Stanford
University, William Wayne Justice, the judge who presided over
the district court proceedings in Ruiz, provided insight into the
background of the case. 21 After Judge Justice made some minor
attempts to balance the inequity in prisoners’ proceedings
against the TDC by cross-examining TDC witnesses himself, he
began receiving a very large number of letters from prisoners
describing their complaints. Subsequently, he was invited to
speak at a SMU seminar on prisons and prison reform, which
spurred his desire “to see at least one case where the plaintiffs
were adequately represented.” 22
Based on the advice of a fellow judge, Judge Justice
decided to involve the United States by ordering the Department
of Justice to appear as amicus curiae in order to give the inmates
better access to resources that would otherwise not have been
available. 23 The Department lawyers were so appalled by what
they found in their investigation of Texas prisons that “the
United States filed a motion to intervene as a party plaintiff.” 24
After 159 days of trial, the district court issued a 118page memorandum opinion, setting forth the relief it proposed to
grant. Judge Justice required TDC to “prepare and file with the
[c]ourt a plan which will assure that prisoners receive necessary
medical, dental, and psychiatric care from the moment of their
arrival in TDC.” 25 The plan must include provision for:
7

1. Prompt identification of immediate needs for medical, dental, and psychiatric care;
2. Compliance with American Medical Association (AMA) Standards for Health
Services in Prison, including a plan for implementation;
3. Development of standards for architectural, engineering, or equipment needs of prison
health care facilities to the extent they are not addressed by the AMA standards;
4. Accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAH) of the
TDC-UTMB Hospital;
5. Adequate inpatient and outpatient psychiatric and other psychological care, including
the provision of appropriate facilities for that purpose;
6. A system to assure that no prisoner is assigned to do work that is contraindicated for
his medical condition; and
7. Full access to health care for all prisoners, regardless of segregation status. 26
Judge Justice also required TDC to assure that nonmedical staff did not countermand any
medical order regarding a prisoner’s treatment, work, or other related circumstances, and that
prisoners are not denied access to work, recreation, education, or other programs or opportunities
because of health status unless required for medical reasons as determined by a licensed
physician. 27 Prisoners who arrive with medication and a prescription for that medication will not
be deprived of that medication until a licensed physician has examined them and made a medical
determination regarding the continuation of that medication. 28 Finally, Judge Justice specifically
required TDC to initiate a program of accreditation by the AMA. 29
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed Judge Justice’s order on appeal,
comparing the order to the standards set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court concluded
“[t]he state has an obligation to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by
incarceration.” 30 In addition, the Court decided “acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to
evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of inmates constitute cruel and unusual
punishment.”
A fairly recent Fifth Circuit case provides a useful application of the Supreme Court’s
holdings in Estelle v. Gamble and Farmer v. Brennan. In Easter v. Powell, a prison inmate
brought a claim against a prison nurse alleging she violated the Eighth Amendment when she
refused to treat his chest pains. 31 In this case, the Fifth Circuit first stated that the Supreme Court
has interpreted the Eighth Amendment “as imposing a duty on prison officials to ‘ensure that
inmates receive adequate … medical care.” The court explained that “the ‘deliberate indifference
standard’ requires ‘a showing that the official was subjectively aware of the risk [of serious harm
to the inmate].”32 The court found, based on the inmate’s allegations, the nurse was aware of a
substantial risk of harm to the inmate’s health based on circumstantial evidence. 33 The
circumstantial evidence included the inmate’s history of heart disease on his medical chart and
testimony that the nurse had been exposed to that chart. 34 Further, after finding the nurse was
8

aware of a substantial risk, the court found she exhibited deliberate indifference by sending the
inmate back to his cell without providing any treatment for his severe chest pain. 35
Managed Health Care in Prisons and Potential Violations of the U.S. Constitution
The Texas prison system has adopted a managed health care plan. Details on that plan
and the contractual obligations of each side are included in the “Contractual Problems” section of
this report, pages 16-18. Generally, “[t]he goal of managed health care is to have a health care
system that operates more cost-effectively than the traditional fee-for-service system.” 36 To
achieve this goal of cost-effectiveness, the focus is usually on the financial bottom line and
cutting costs. 37
When the focus shifts too heavily to the financial aspects of the health care, at the
expense of the medical needs of prisoners, there is the potential for widespread constitutional
violations. 38 “[P]rison health care providers may not place financial considerations ahead of the
medical needs of prisoners” and “[c]ourts have firmly established that a lack of funds does not
justify constitutionally inadequate treatment of inmates, particularly in the case of medical
care.” 39 The Second and Eleventh Circuits have held that “a treatment decision based on nonmedical considerations constitutes deliberate indifference.” 40 In the Eleventh Circuit case, the
court held that the inmate’s allegations that the officials put the financial interests of the prison
system ahead of her medical needs were sufficient to state a constitutional violation. 41
The use of managed care in the correctional setting creates a risk that medical decisions
will be based on fiscal, rather than medical, considerations. 42 Based on these holdings, a
prisoner could likely make out a valid constitutional claim if there was evidence that TDCJ was
cutting costs through the managed health care plan at the expense of the medical needs of
prisoners.
Conclusion
All prisoners have the right to at least some medical care under the Eighth Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution. However, in order for there to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment for
which relief can be granted, the inmate must prove that the person administering medical care or
another prison official was deliberately indifferent to the inmate’s serious medical needs.
Deliberate indifference is a subjective standard, but is more than inadvertence or mere
negligence.
Texas law also provides some guidance as to what medical care prisoners are entitled.
These statutory provisions lay the foundation for the relationship between TDCJ, the University
of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) and the Texas Tech University Health Science
Center (“Tech”), which provide the health care services for Texas prisons. The Agreement
between the CMHCC and TDCJ, based on Chapter 501 of the Texas Government Code, provides
specifics on the medical care that is guaranteed to state prisoners. Texas has adopted a managed
health care plan, which can potentially violate the Eighth Amendment if financial considerations
are placed above the medical needs of the prisoner. In 2011, as legislators prepare to balance the
9

state budget, they have proposed cutting funds for prison health care—the precise action that
could create constitutional problems.
While the recognition and enforcement of a prisoner’s right to medical care has come a
long way since the 1960s, with the increasing prison population in Texas and the limitations on
an inmate’s ability to seek relief, more reform is surely needed. If nothing else, Texas must work
to prevent from sliding backward to the “bad old days.”

10

CURRENT MEDICAL CARE IN TEXAS PRISONS
Current Texas guidelines divide prison healthcare into two categories: access to care and
quality of care. Several bodies have different roles within this system:
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is responsible for access to care,
defined as “timely access to health care provider evaluation and health care provider prescribed
treatment.”
The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) and Texas Tech University Health
Sciences Center (Tech) are responsible for providing “proper, adequate, and effective” quality
care, both at their hospitals and at prisons, in which the medical personnel are UTMB or Tech
employees. UTMB provides care for about 80% of Texas inmates in the eastern and central part
of the state, while Tech is responsible for the care of the other 20%, mostly in West Texas.
The Correctional Managed Health Care Committee (CMHCC) is a TDCJ body that
oversees, coordinates, and contracts for the delivery of healthcare to inmates. It is contractually
responsible for “developing, implementing, and monitoring the correctional managed health care
services.” 43 It is composed of nine appointed members, five of whom must be physicians.
Prisoners’ Rights to Medical Care under Texas Government Code
Texas statutes also require prisoners be given medical care.
litigation, Texas codified some of the required reforms.

Reacting to the Ruiz

1.
Texas Government Code § 501.051 Medical Facilities at University of Texas
Medical Branch. This provision falls within the chapter on inmate welfare and the subchapter on
general medical and mental health care provisions. The provision states that “[t]he facility shall
provide the same level of care as is provided for patients in other facilities of The University of
Texas Medical Branch at Galveston,” i.e. patients from the “free world.” 44 Additionally, it
requires TDCJ and UTMB to adopt a memorandum of understanding establishing the
responsibilities of each of these two entities. 45
2.
§ 501.063 Inmate Copayments for Certain Health Care Visits. If an inmate who is
held in a facility operated by TDCJ initiates a visit to a health care provider, that inmate must
make a $3 copayment to TDCJ out of the inmate’s trust fund. 46 If the inmate’s individual trust
fund is insufficient to cover the payment, then fifty percent of each deposit to the fund shall be
applied toward the balance owed. 47 However, if the health care is provided in response to a lifethreatening or emergency situation, is initiated by TDCJ, is initiated by the health care provider,
or is provided under a separate contractual obligation, then TDCJ may not charge a copayment. 48
Prior to inmate-initiated visits, TDCJ must inform inmates that a $3 copayment will be deducted
from their trust fund, but may not deny an inmate access to health care as a result of the inmate’s
failure or inability to make a copayment. 49 The funds collected as copayments may only be used
to pay the cost of administering this section of the code. 50
11

§ 501.064 Availability of Correctional Health Care Information to Inmates.
3.
TDCJ must make the following information available to “any inmate confined in a facility
operated by” TDCJ: “(1) a description of the level, type, and variety of health care services
available to inmates; (2) the formulary used by correctional health care personnel in prescribing
medication to inmates; (3) correctional managed care policies and procedures; and (4) the
process for the filing of inmate grievances concerning health care services provided to
inmates.” 51
4.
§ 501.146 Managed Health Care Plan. This provision falls within the chapter on
inmate welfare and the subchapter on managed health care 52 and requires CMHCC to develop a
managed health care plan for persons confined by TDCJ. 53 This managed health care plan must
include the establishment of a managed health care provider network of physicians and hospitals,
cost containment studies, care case management and utilization management studies, and a
provision requiring the managed health care plan to accept certification by the Medicare program
as an alternative to accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare
Organizations. 54
5.
§ 501.149 Disease Management Services. “Disease management services” means
services to assist an individual in managing a disease or other chronic health condition, such as
heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illness, end-stage renal disease, HIV infection, or AIDS.55
The provision requires the managed health care plan to provide disease management services,
including (1) patient self-management education; (2) provider education; (3) evidence-based
models and minimum standards of care; (4) standardized protocols and participation criteria; and
(5) physician-directed or physician-supervised care. 56
6.
§ 501.150 Quality of Care Monitoring by the Department and Health Care
Providers. The CMHCC is required to establish a procedure for monitoring the quality of care
delivered by health care providers. 57 Additionally, TDCJ and the medical care providers are
required to report the results of their monitoring activities to the CMHCC and to the Texas Board
of Criminal Justice, which oversees TDCJ prisons. 58 This report includes a list of and the status
of any corrective actions required of the health care providers. 59
7.
§ 501.151 Complaints. The CMHCC is required to maintain a file on each written
complaint filed with it. 60 Further, the CMHCC must make information available describing its
procedures for complaint investigation and resolution. 61 The CMHCC also must notify the
person filing the complaint and each person who is a subject of the complaint of the status of the
investigation unless the notice would jeopardize an undercover investigation. 62
Contractual problems
The contracts CMHCC makes with TDCJ, UTMB, and Tech are all problematic in ways
that could easily contribute to poor levels of healthcare. Low standards and weak oversight have
been codified as part of the contracts for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

12

Grievances in TDCJ
TDCJ has a formal grievance
system to resolve prisoners’
complaints. Since the passage
of the Prison Litigation Reform
Act (PLRA) in 1996, inmates
are required to go through the
grievance process before they
can file a lawsuit.
TDCJ has a “two step”
grievance process. A Step One
grievance makes the initial
complaint, and is reviewed by
staff at the prison. If the
prisoner is not satisfied with
the response to a Step One
grievance, he or she can file a
Step Two grievance which is
reviewed by TDCJ staff off the
unit. Grievances related to
medical care are reviewed by
medical staff at both levels.

Though the PLRA was intended
to prevent prisoners from
filing frivolous federal
lawsuits, it also ultimately bars
meritorious complaints when
prisoners fail to comply with
procedural requirements.
Many prisoners are
uneducated or illiterate, and do
not understand how to use the
grievance process. The TDCJ
grievance process also includes
many unforgiving deadlines,
such as requiring prisoners to
make their initial complaint
within 15 days of the problem
first arising.
Texas has a statute similar to
the PLRA, at Chapter 14 of the
Texas Civil Practice and
Remedies Code.

Lack of accountability is one of the biggest problems in
these contracts. UTMB and Tech are contractually rewarded for
removing one of the most important sources of health care
oversight and accountability: grievances filed by the inmates
themselves. One performance measure included in these most
recent contracts with UTMB and TTUHSC is the percentage of
unsustained grievances: that is, grievances that are resolved
against the inmate. The two providers are contractually
obligated to sustain 10% or less of Step One medical
grievances and 6% or less of Step Two medical grievances.
This encourages providers to resolve even the most valid and
pressing inmate grievances in favor of TDCJ rather than in
favor of the inmate. If TDCJ employees feel they will be
penalized for resolving valid grievances in favor of the inmate,
then they will be encouraged to discard valid complaints,
crippling the grievance system. The positive intent of this
clause – to increase the quality of medical services so that fewer
complaints are lodged – could be much more effectively
reached by measuring the providers' reactions to and
improvements following valid inmate grievances, which would
reward improvement rather than unaccountability.
The contract also allows a relatively high percentage of
vacancies in medical provider positions. The 2010-2011 fiscal
year contracts permit up to a 12% vacancy rate for unit-level
provider positions: that is, physicians, nurses, and other allied
medical health providers who work in the prison units. A 12%
vacancy rate is not success; it should be considered
unacceptable. More healthcare providers in prisons means
fewer necessary high-cost hospital and specialist visits, and thus
fewer transportation costs. It also means faster healthcare,
better healthcare, and fewer expensive complications from
simple, easily-treatable ailments. TDCJ should prioritize
recruitment rather than accept by contract an insufficient
number of providers.
Finally, the contract gives performance measures for
what constitutes adequate and timely access to care that are
ultimately too weak to improve the system. Prisoners who
submit sick call requests must be “physically triaged,” or
examined to evaluate the urgency of their complaints, within 48
hours (72 hours on weekends), and, if referred to a physician or
other medical professional, must be seen by that professional
within seven days of triage. 63 Though these standards seem
13

acceptable, the mandatory compliance rate is low enough to make these standards less
meaningful: UTMB and Tech must comply with these standards only 80% of the time without
penalty or additional monitoring. This means that for every five prisoners who submit sick call
requests, one prisoner can go entirely without investigation of his or her complaint with no
penalty to the medical providers. Since inmate self-monitoring is the primary TDCJ mechanism
for identifying prisoner health problems, it is crucial that complaints are taken more seriously
than this.
In addition, there are no standards for prompt treatment, only prompt evaluation of
whether treatment is necessary. Even when a serious health complaint is observed, treatment of
that complaint could be delayed indefinitely without the medical providers violating their
contractual obligations. Monitoring of performance outcomes is a necessary addition to the
contract and the only way to identify and address problems of the most important part of medical
care: the success of medical treatment. Moreover, the contract specifies no performance
measures for access to care in emergency treatment for prisoners, only for cases in which a sick
call request is submitted. A prisoner like David West, who collapses in the shower, obviously
cannot submit a sick call request, but under current guidelines nobody is strictly accountable for
failing to treat him.
Major changes to these sections of the contracts are necessary to create a higher standard
of accountability, to bring prison health care in line with general community standards, and
ensure a higher level of both quality of care and access to care.

14

QUALITY OF CARE
Medical horror story: Larry Louis Cox
Larry Louis Cox was incarcerated at a Huntsville prison unit. On January 23, 2007, two
guards, who were clearing his cell block for fumigations, approached Mr. Cox’s cell to evacuate
him from the building. Mr. Cox refused to leave. He allegedly kicked one of the guards,
prompting the other guard and a sergeant to restrain him by forcing him to the floor. As Mr. Cox
was taken down, he hit his head on his metal bunk and locker and began bleeding profusely.
Guards took Mr. Cox to the prison infirmary where he complained of neck pain and was
transferred to Huntsville Memorial Hospital. There he underwent a CT scan which doctors
reported was “unremarkable with no sign of fracture.” Mr. Cox was taken back to the prison.
Six hours later, Mr. Cox "told (a guard) he hurt too bad to get up or move," according to
reports. He claimed he was paralyzed. A guard offered him Tylenol, but Mr. Cox could not
even move from the floor to his cell bars to take it. A nurse told the guard that Mr. Cox “would
have to get up and accept the medication if he wanted it.” As he could not stand to cross the cell,
Mr. Cox did not even receive Tylenol while lying paralyzed on the floor.
This interaction was repeated at least three times over the next couple of days, as Mr. Cox
lay in his own blood and waste on the floor of his cell, continuing to complain of pain and beg
for help. One guard, worried Mr. Cox would die if he did not receive medical attention,
contacted a supervisor. Twelve hours later, Mr. Cox was taken to UTMB's John Sealy Hospital
in Galveston where doctors discovered his spinal fractures. For the next eleven days, Mr. Cox
remained at John Sealy Hospital, where his health deteriorated steadily until his death.
The Galveston County medical examiner ruled his death a homicide as a result of blunt
force trauma and medical negligence – a homicide in which no one was held responsible. The
real killer: the appallingly low quality of medical care provided in TDCJ.
Accountability
One reason inmates like Mr. Cox continue to die preventable deaths in Texas prisons is
the lack of accountability for such deaths and for quality of care in general. Limited contractual
accountability obligations are one source of this problem. In fact, the lack of accountability
caused Dallas County to drop UTMB as its jail healthcare provider. 64 Jefferson County also
chose a different company, saying that UTMB wants “to make mistakes and have the contracting
county eat the resulting lawsuits.” 65 TDCJ should take note of these lost contracts and rethink
how UTMB’s performance is measured and whether this performance is at an acceptable level.
Another problem is the thick veil of secrecy kept over inmate deaths, denying public
oversight, and increasing medical negligence. According to state law, nearly every report or
inspection that could tell legislators or the public the truth about the state of prison healthcare is
15

Who is in TDCJ?
UTMB’s
prison
medical
director fears every prisoner
wants to “slit [his] throat and
kill [him].” But the majority of
TDCJ inmates, 52%, are not
incarcerated for violent crimes.
Offense Types
Violent

78,783

Drug
Other

29,016

Total

155,076

25,694

Property

21,583

Offense Type
(2009)
Violent

Property

Drug

Other

13%
48%

24%

kept secret – including everything from inmate grievances “to
publicly-funded medical experiments to state inspections of
blood-splattered kidney dialysis offices.” 66 It is impossible, for
instance, for a patient to find out whether the dialysis machine he
uses regularly is cleaned of biohazardous materials, like blood,
whether he is in prison or in the free world – even though the
state obtains that information for itself. 67
Moreover, the Texas Public Information Act, the primary
way for citizens to obtain information on places like prison, does
not extend to documents “about” a TDCJ inmate. 68 Even a
prisoner’s family cannot get all the documents about why and
how their loved-one died in TDCJ custody. Prison health
providers cannot be held publicly or legislatively accountable
even for preventable inmate deaths, which they may have helped
to cause, and most certainly not for unsafe conditions that lead to
the spread of disease.
It is imperative to increase transparency and
accountability in the prison health care system. There is no
legitimate state interest in hiding the horrors of prison healthcare.
Maintaining secrecy only deprives the public and the legislature
of their right to demand change.
Florida's prison health accountability system is a good
model for reform. The Correctional Medical Authority (CMA)
was created there for the sole purpose of monitoring the quality
of state healthcare, including correctional healthcare. It works
independently of state healthcare providers and contractors to
remain completely unbiased. The CMA publishes all of its
findings so that the public and legislature have easy access to
information about the system. Consequently, failures can be more
easily identified and corrected. The CMA can also issue
citations, which often quickly solve the cited problem because of
the exposure to public scrutiny. 69 Texas' prison healthcare needs
such an independent auditor; it would undoubtedly improve
quickly under such scrutiny.

15%

16

Who is in TDCJ? (cont.)

Provider attitudes
Poor-quality medical care is often caused in part by
provider and public attitudes that prisoners do not deserve
proper medical care. This attitude affects the treatment
administered by doctors as well as the funding appropriated
by the legislature for medical care in prison.
The fear of inmate violence affects the attitude of
some medical staff, although no UTMB personnel have ever
been seriously hurt by an inmate, according to UTMB's own
reports. 70 Despite this, Troy Sybert, UTMB’s medical
director at the prison branch of the hospital, admits,
“Whenever I’m dealing with a patient, I imagine that he
would slit my throat and kill me if he could. 71”
This mentality is indicative of the pervading view of
all inmates as dangerous, lifelong degenerates not worthy of
healthcare, as though the denial of basic human rights is just
part of the standard punishment. But the truth is that the vast
majority of inmates will return to live as citizens in the free
world, where dehumanizing attitudes they experience in
prison can lead to a poor readjustment to free life and can
have a negative impact on the community because most sick
state prisoners are eventually released to the free world,
bringing their festering diseases with them.
Providers need to remember that prisoners are their
patients and human beings, and should have the same care as
a free-world patient. Personnel training should encourage
humane attitudes toward prisoners so that cold indifference
on the part of personnel does not lead to more tragic deaths
like that of Larry Louis Cox.
Infrastructure
Quality of care is adversely affected by the literally
crumbling infrastructure of the health care system,
particularly at the UTMB-Galveston hospital that serves
Texas prisoners. As of 2006, before Hurricane Ike literally
devastated the hospital, “bricks falling off the eight-story
hospital’s crumbling façade have forced officials to fence it
off, to keep passers-by out of harm’s way.” 72 In addition, the
medical equipment shows the strain of underfunding:
17

Violent Offenses
Homicide
Kidnapping
Sexual Assault
Sexual Assault of a Child
Robbery
Assault

24%

21%

29%

15%

2%
9%

Violent Offenses
Homicide

Kidnapping

Sexual Assault

16,178

1,329
7,324

Sexual Assault
of a Child

12,057

Assault

18,995

Robbery

22,900

Dr. Sybert may be interested to
learn that a TDCJ prisoner is almost
twice as likely to be incarcerated
for a drug offense as a murder.
Moreover, according to the
Legislative Budget Board, less than
a quarter of people convicted of a
violent offense recidivate.

Legislative Budget Board, “Statewide
Criminal Justice Recidivism and Revocation
Rates,” (January 2005)
http://www.lbb.state.tx.us/PubSafety_Cri
mJustice/3_Reports/Recidivism_Report_20
05.pdf.

equipment that “no private doctor would touch” remains in use, and “derelict [x-ray] machines
must be continually cannibalized to keep others in service.” 73
Directing additional funding to basic medical needs could go a long way towards
improving the constitutionally-mandated quality of care the state of Texas provides to prisoners,
as well as toward recruiting more and better medical personnel to the system.
The Texas Youth Commission, the juvenile prison system where UTMB is also
responsible for healthcare, has reported difficulty in hiring medical staff due to deteriorating
safety conditions, 74 a problem TDCJ will face in the future if it does not improve its
infrastructure. Investing in the correctional health care infrastructure will improve greatly the
level of care available.
Telemedicine: a partial solution
Telemedicine is a system in which doctors examine patients through videoconferencing
rather than in person. It is an increasingly well-regarded substitute for a direct visit with a
doctor, and has obvious benefits in the realm of prisons: it allows for faster treatment, controls
costs, and removes the burden and potential danger of transporting inmates to a medical facility
that is usually hours away.
Moreover, studies show patients are equally satisfied with teleconferenced “doctor's
visits” as they are with face-to-face consultation, even among prisoners. 75 In a study conducted
in the early days of telemedicine, 91% of prisoners surveyed were satisfied with the care they
received via telemedicine. 76
In 2007, UTMB conducted approximately 70,000 patient visits using telemedicine. 77
Electronic stethoscopes and other instruments replace the hands-on examination typical of a
doctor’s visit and a medical staff member at the unit, like a nurse practitioner, helps resolve any
confusion on the doctor's part. Many of these “doctor's visits” simply consist of a specialist
examining a patient's tests to provide a diagnoses, a task that lends itself well to telemedicine's
format. Some are as in-depth as extensive psychiatric evaluation and prescription of sensitive
medications. Organizations from UTMB itself to the AMA to the American Psychiatric
Association agree that telemedicine is a viable alternative to standard doctor's visits, especially in
a sensitive arena like prisons. 78
Telemedicine is not flawless, however. One of its risks, as used by UTMB, is the
extremely short time period a teleconferencing doctor spends with each patient. In a recent
hearing, witnesses testified that prison doctors see about 60 patients via teleconference in an
eight-hour workday – only eight minutes spent with each patient. 79 This is unacceptable and the
consequences of such a short appointment time can be dire.
An inmate at the Polunsky Unit, who corresponded with TCRP, injured his left eye and
was examined by a doctor via videoconference for less than three minutes. The doctor concluded
18

the inmate needed psychotropic drugs rather than treatment for his eye. This was a complete
misdiagnosis, which left the inmate completely blind in one eye. The failure of telemedicine
wasn't entirely responsible for his injury, however. The inmate complained about going blind for
nearly a month before he was seen by any medical professional (even through telemedicine),
filing formal requests for care on ten separate occasions before the telemedicine appointment.
Telemedicine, supplemented by efficient and effective health care procedures at other
points, could work well in a prison setting. Still, this case highlights the room for mistakes in
telemedicine practice. Though TCRP recommends the expansion of telemedicine as a way to
save costs and transportation time, as well as provide quality care, this recommendation is
absolutely contingent on a substantial increase in time spent per patient. In addition, a nurse or
physician's assistant should always be present with the inmate in person to assist the
teleconferencing doctor and avoid costly and dangerous mistakes.
Recommendations:
It is imperative that TDCJ, policymakers, and other stakeholders make a commitment to
raise the level of medical care within Texas facilities to acceptable contemporary standards.
Meeting these standards will improve accountability, increase transparency, and improve agency
efficiency which will lead to cost savings for the state. Texas should consider acting on the
following recommendations:
•

Increase accountability and transparency of high-risk practices including preventable
inmate deaths - which may end in costly lawsuits - by revising current medical contracts,
and making amendments to the Public Information Act to make information about prison
conditions public.

•

Encourage the use of “best practices” in personnel trainings that foster a more humane
attitude toward prisoners.

•

Divert additional resources toward improving the infrastructure of TDCJ, including
buildings and medical equipment, particularly at UTMB-Galveston in light of the
devastation of the hospital by Hurricane Ike.

•

Expand the telemedicine system as a cost-efficient way to extend healthcare to more
inmates.

•

In addition to the expanded use of the Telemedicine, ensure doctors spend sufficient time
with each patient and that a unit-level provider is present to avoid mistakes.

19

ACCESS TO CARE
Medical horror story: Adam Whitford 80
Not everyone who is a victim of TDCJ's medical neglect dies; some are only disabled for
life. Adam Whitford injured his ankle in 2004, before he was incarcerated. But the limited care
he received in prison and the unsanitary conditions he lived in caused him to develop a severe
staph infection, which became an oozing wound on his foot. He was prescribed antibiotics for
the infection to be taken every 6 hours: at 4 a.m., 10 a.m., 4 p.m., and 10 p.m. But the prison pill
window system of distributing medication meant he often had to wait up to two hours for his
medication from the time he was supposed to take it. If not taken at proper intervals, antibiotics
allow the bacteria they are supposed to fight to develop immunities and grow stronger.
This is exactly what happened to the staph infection in Adam Whitford's body. His
doctors at UTMB-Galveston ordered that the wound be cleaned twice daily. But, back in TDCJ
custody, it was cleaned only twice weekly. Unit medical staff even refused to provide Mr.
Whitford medical supplies to clean it more often himself. The infection worsened. Due to the
simple administrative problems of ineffective medicine distribution and insufficient medical
supplies, Mr. Whitford’s foot was amputated above the ankle. If he's lucky, he will get to keep
his leg.
Distribution of medication
Adam Whitford's story illustrates several serious problems in TDCJ's medical care,
including the poor distribution of medication. Prescriptions are usually distributed through “pill
windows,” which are open only at limited times. This creates two challenges: first, some
medications, like anti-HIV drugs and antibiotics, are most effective when taken at specific times.
When the pill windows are not open at the time prisoners need their medicine, the prisoners can’t
take their drugs on the prescribed schedule and the pills are less likely to work. Second, the lines
are so long that the windows sometimes close before all the inmates are served, so many are
turned away with no medication at all. 81 TCRP has received a number of letters from physically
disabled prisoners forced to stand while they wait for medication at the pill window, causing
extreme pain and exacerbating the medical problems their medications are meant to improve.
Few inmates are fortunate enough to be allowed KOP, or “keep on person,” medications,
and even with permission these medications are sometimes confiscated during searches for
genuine contraband.
In addition, mix-ups of medications are not unheard of. TCRP has received complaints
from inmates who were given the wrong medications entirely, with disastrous side effects.

20

“Work Restrictions”
Texas prisoners typically must
work at a job to help in the
upkeep of the prisons. They
are not paid for this labor, and
can be disciplined for failing to
work. Prisoners can lose their
“good conduct” time (delaying
possible parole) and other
privileges for not working.

One of the prison medical
providers’ important
responsibilities is to determine
if a prisoner is unable to work
(or unable to work certain
jobs). The provider fills out an
“HSM-18” form which notes
what activities the prisoner
cannot do (like lift over a
certain weight, or be exposed
to heat, chemicals, etc.).
TCRP receives many letters
each year from prisoners
complaining that their medical
restrictions were changed
incorrectly or are simply being
ignored by TDCJ.
Recently, a TCRP client had his
work restrictions removed.
Although he is sixty-years old
and suffers from congestive
heart failure and had work
restrictions in place since
2002, a clerical error removed
the restrictions. He lost good
time credit and privileges and
was placed in solitary
confinement until the issue
was resolved.

A dramatic example of the effects of improper
medication distribution on a large scale is seen in a
groundbreaking study by Dr. William A. O’Brien, a UTMB
doctor, showing that Texas prisoners frequently have a drugresistant form of HIV, 82 one that was most likely caused by the
inconsistency in proper medication and the lack of routine
physician care. If anti-HIV drugs are taken irregularly, the
small amounts of medication received cause the virus to
mutate and become stronger. Not only does this increase
HIV's prevalence and deadliness in prisons – it creates a grave
public health risk when these prisoners are eventually released
from custody and they bring the drug-resistant HIV into the
community.
Communication breakdown
One of the most common complaints TCRP receives is
that physicians’ recommendations of care, specific diagnoses,
and prescriptions, are all ignored when the prisoner leaves the
hospital and returns to their unit. This problem can be so bad
that some prisoners claim the only way to be assured access to
care is to enroll in a provider-sponsored experimental medical
study. 83 Common examples of how prescribed medical care is
ignored at the unit level include withheld medication, missed
medical appointments, and disregarded work and cell
restrictions. A TCRP client recently missed her scheduled
surgery, and was forced to wait weeks forattention to her
painful medical problem, simply because guards failed to
show up to transport her to UTMB’s hospital in Galveston.
Treatment delays
Delays in treatment caused by the poor communication
between unit-level and hospital-level providers are far too
common in prison health care and often exacerbate both injury
and ultimately cost of treatment. In one example, an inmate
who corresponded with TCRP spent over six months without a
hip joint after his hip replacement was removed due to a staph
infection because his medical appointments were continually
cancelled or pushed back by unit staff. According to letters
received by TCRP, this is far from an uncommon problem in
Texas prisons. Medical appointments are often pushed back
indefinitely if, for example, transportation from the unit to a
hospital is not available on the day of the appointment.
21

Moreover, because prison clinics are designed to work like emergency rooms and handle
acute problems, inmates with chronic conditions requiring check-ups are not prioritized, despite
the fact that their conditions can easily worsen and become needlessly expensive to taxpayers
without regular care. Automatic, electronic scheduling of regular checkups for inmates with
chronic conditions would help alleviate these problems.
In addition, inmate self-reporting of medical problems should be taken seriously, since
this is the primary mechanism for the early recognition of potentially serious problems like the
ones discussed above.
Recommendations:
Texas should take the following steps to ensure that doctor-ordered care is implemented at the
unit level:
•

Reform the medication distribution system, by allowing more keep-on-person
medication, particularly for drugs like anti-HIV medications, insulin, and antibiotics that
must be taken regularly to avoid complications, drug resistance, or potential public health
dangers.

•

Improve unit provider compliance with medical cell- and work-restrictions by requiring
unit officials to implement medically-recommended cell- and work-restrictions of
prisoners.

•

Improve communications between hospital providers, unit-level providers, and nonmedical personnel through a universally available records system.

•

Create an automatic “check-up” system for inmates with chronic conditions requiring
regular care. This would diminish the wait period for individuals who require chronic
medical care and is especially important to alleviate the worsening of their medical
condition.

•

Ensure adequate and prompt responses to all medical complaints. Medical complaints –
especially for prisoners with an established medical history – must be taken seriously and
be addressed promptly. Adequate and prompt care is essential to increasing efficiency
and reducing long-term costs.

22

PROBLEM AREAS
OVERCROWDING IN TEXAS PRISONS
Overview
A major contributing factor to the poor quality health care in Texas prisons is
overcrowding. Texas ranks fourth in the nation for the percentage of its population in the
criminal justice system: one in every twenty Texans is either in prison or on probation or
parole. 84 Texas does not have the facilities or the budget to house and constitutionally care for its
growing and aging population of inmates. In its quest to incarcerate more people than its prisons
can hold, Texas has sacrificed both the level of prison healthcare and the money of taxpayers.
Texas prisons recently faced both an overcrowding and understaffing crisis. In 2005, the
Houston Chronicle published a report predicting that prisons would be full by March of the same
year. 85 As late as 2009, some prisons were woefully understaffed, with Dalhart and Fort
Stockton Units facing a 20% guard shortage. 86 Both of these areas have improved in the short
term: probation reform helped divert some people away from prison, while the economic crisis
has increased the demand for jobs, filling more of the vacant positions.
Looming budget cuts, however, threaten to reverse this progress. TDCJ has proposed a
layoff of 3,052 employees, including 2,037 security staff. 87 These cuts, along with an aging and
increasingly expensive prison population, threaten to aggravate the existing problems of the
Texas prison healthcare system.
The Texas Legislature's traditional solution to the problem of overcrowding is to add
more beds, but the economic crisis has ruled out building new prisons as a possible solution.
Building more prisons is exorbitantly expensive; new facilities cost as much as $400 million for
construction alone, 88 not including the annual cost of upkeep.
Building new prisons would also be an ineffective measure because, as the budget cuts
show, there is no money to staff new prisons.
Moreover, the employees who staff existing prisons are often not qualified for the job.
State Senator John Whitmire, chair of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee,
acknowledged that Texas is hiring “18-year-olds just a few months out of high school [as well
as] 70-plus-year-old guards and others who are physically not able to protect themselves or
others.” 89 This understaffing problem leads to both security and medical risks: a lower guard-toinmate ratio means inmates are more susceptible to assault or fights with other inmates, which
can lead to injury. Further, inmates in understaffed prisons cannot access sick call procedures as
easily, and an inmate with an urgent medical problem or a worsening condition is more likely to
go unnoticed.
TDCJ's medical contractors face an even more severe staffing shortage, caused by poor
incentives for recruitment and worsened by Hurricane Ike. The storm devastated the coastal
23

Community Based Drug and
Alcohol Treatment
Texas incarcerates 29,016
people for drug offenses, and
an additional 6,233 people for
DWI. (Another 2,020 people
are in TDCJ for “public order”
offenses, many of which
probably involve alcohol
abuse.) In total, almost a
quarter of TDCJ prisoners are
incarcerated for drug or
alcohol-related offenses.

If just a portion of these men
and women were sent to
mandatory community-based
drug treatment programs, the
State could save substantial
money and allow prison
resources to be reserved for
the most dangerous criminals.

hospital of UTMB-Galveston, resulting in destroyed
infrastructure and huge cutbacks. Nearly half of the hospital's
staff was laid off in 2008. 90 Similarly, UTMB plans to cut more
than ten percent of its staff providing medical care to prisoners
in the coming year. 91
These cuts, however, only add to the understaffing
problem. Because of the state’s low salary rates, it is doubtful
that many young medical school graduates would choose to
work in a prison clinic or at UTMB for a pittance rather than in
private practice. For medical staff in particular, salaries and
benefits must improve if Texas hopes to make up its current
personnel shortages. As it stands, the staff shortages lead to a
constitutionally unacceptable level of care, and increasing
prison populations will only worsen this problem.
To see the potential consequences of failing to control
the prison population, Texas need only look to California.
There, the state is discovering the consequences of “three
strikes and you’re out” sentencing—prisoners are serving life
sentences for relatively minor offenses. Because of the capacity
problems “three strikes” created, federal courts have now
placed the prison system under supervision. Complying with
the federal court’s orders could cost as much as $8 billion, and
require releasing 40,000 prisoners. 92

Contrary to popular belief, overcrowding is not a result of high crime rates. In fact, crime
rates per capita in Texas have been decreasing steadily, dropping 9% from 1998 to 2007.93
Incarceration rates, however, have dramatically increased. From 1978 to 2004, Texas’ state
population increased by 67%, but Texas’ prison population increased by 573%. 94 In actuality,
prison overcrowding is caused by a number of factors, independent of crime rates:
1. Overly harsh sentencing laws;
2. Dishonest fiscal notes on legislation to increase sentences;
3. Chronic failure of the Board of Pardons and Paroles to meet its own standards for
releasing low-risk prisoners; and,
4. An aging prison population.
Overly harsh sentencing laws
Texas' overly harsh sentencing laws are one problem that contributes heavily to
overcrowding and the subsequent strain on healthcare. Juries often give the maximum sentence
with the idea that the offender will serve only half that sentence before being released to parole,
but the broken parole system inhibits this approach, as discussed below.
24

One example of absurd sentencing is the 35-year prison sentence which a man in Tyler
received for the possession of just over four ounces of marijuana. He got off easy – the
prosecutor asked for a 99-year sentence. 95 In another case, a Matagorda County jury recently
sentenced a man to 60 years in prison for possession of 1.3 grams of crack cocaine, about half
the weight of a U.S. dime. There was no evidence of intent to distribute. 96 A court in
Williamson County recently sentenced a DWI-offender to life in prison, 97 and a jury in Anderson
County sentenced a man to 99 years in prison for theft. 98
Ultimately, the Texas legislature is responsible for giving juries these outrageous options,
overselling their impact on crime. Lengthy sentences for non-violent offenders will cost millions
in room, board, and healthcare as they spend many years, or even the rest of their lives, in prison
at taxpayer expense.
In order to control the prison population, Texas should revise current sentencing laws by
creating a Sentencing Review Commission, charged with the task of creating new sentencing
laws more consistent with those nationwide. Especially for non-violent drug crimes, probation
and parole are good alternatives to incarceration. Substance abuse treatment can be made a
condition of probation or parole to address the offenders’ problems, rather than just incarcerating
them (where they may, or may not, get the treatment they will need when they are eventually
released). Texas should reduce enhancements and change minor felonies to Class A
misdemeanors to divert more low-level inmates to county jails and probation, where the
crowding crisis is less severe. Releasing all prisoners on parole when they have served 90% of
their sentence would both create savings from early release and ensure some state-supervision of
newly freed prisoners who have spent decades in prison.
Dishonest fiscal notes
A second problem is fiscal notes, estimates of the expected cost or revenue of new laws
that must be attached to every new bill in the Legislature. Fiscal notes for enhancements of
criminal penalties almost always underestimate the high cost of incarceration as a solution to
social problems.

25

Prisoners Eligible for Parole
Texas releases prisoners
before they complete their
sentence on either parole or
discretionary mandatory
supervision (DMS). Both
parole and DMS allow a
prisoner to complete their
sentence while living in the
community under the
supervision of TDCJ’s Parole
Division.

Sixty-five percent of TDCJ
prisoners are currently eligible
for release on parole or
mandatory supervision.

Prisoners
Eligible for
Parole by
Offense Type
Violent

Property

Drug

Other

16%
45%

20%
19%

A recent bill proposing to increase the penalty for
vehicle burglary from a misdemeanor to a felony had a fiscal
note estimating a cost of about $9 million annually for
housing an additional 500 prison inmates. The note entirely
ignored that, at the time the bill was under consideration, the
prison system was entirely full. Just 500 more inmates would
require building an entirely new facility, actually costing the
state up to $300 million.99
Not only does this lack of accurate fiscal estimates
reduce the perceived cost of overly harsh sentencing laws, but
it also causes even bigger holes in the budget when a “$9
million” law costs taxpayers over 30 times more than
anticipated. In addition, it allows legislators to pass expensive
but politically popular sentence enhancements – and falsely
claim that they will be of little or no cost to the state.
Chronic failure of the Board of Pardons and Paroles
The Board of Pardons and Paroles' failure to
administer parole according to its reasonable official
guidelines is another source of overcrowding. In fiscal year
2008, there were 139,134 inmates in TDCJ custody; of those,
90,880, or 65%, were eligible for parole. 100 However, only
32,548, or 36% of these eligible inmates were actually
released to parole. 101
At first, one might think this is because the other
60,000 inmates were dangerous criminals with violent
histories who would be unwelcome in our communities, but
this is not always the case. In fact, only 45% of the prisoners
eligible for parole and still in custody were convicted of
violent offenses.
Rather, the problem is the way the Parole Board
makes decisions. Consider the way the parole system is set
up. The parole system assigns each parole-eligible inmate to a
level from 1 to 7 denoting his or her likelihood of successfully
completing parole and reintegrating with the community.
Level 1 is the lowest chance and Level 7 is the highest. This
level assignment is based on both the severity of the original
offense and personal factors about the inmate, such as age,
prison gang status, and employment history. For example, an
inmate convicted of capital murder can never receive a level
26

higher than 3, while an inmate convicted of forgery who has good prison conduct, is not in a
gang, and has no violent history may be assigned to level 7.
According to the Board's own guidelines, Level 7 inmates should be released anywhere
from 76% to 100% of the time. 102 Yet in 2006, the Texas Sunset Commission discovered Level
7 inmates were released on parole only 38% to 58% of the time, depending on the region,
leaving thousands of nonviolent, low-risk inmates crowding our prisons and wasting our tax
dollars. 103 There is no requirement the Parole Board follow its own guidelines, and no existing
mechanism to force the Board to comply.
Why this discrepancy? One possible answer is the unbalanced makeup of the Board of
Pardons and Parole itself. As of 2007, 17 of the 19 voting members of the board had
professional backgrounds in law enforcement or criminal justice, 104 with no defense-side or
social work backgrounds to provide another view. This does not at all reflect the makeup of the
Texas juries which set sentences expecting that the maximum time will not be served.
Considering that each parole decision is based on the votes of only three members, a more
balanced board is necessary for administering fair decisions. When making appointments, the
governor should consider the consequences of appointments likely to keep prisons overcrowded.
The Board also has little accountability for its decisions. Parole decisions are made in
secret, and inmates are given little information about why their parole was denied, preventing
them from working toward obtaining parole at their next hearing. Texas law doesn't require the
Board to meet with inmates for their parole hearings, or even to discuss their decision as a group.
Parole “hearings” essentially amount to individual Board members reviewing an inmate's file
and making snap decisions on whether or not to grant parole.
Moreover, inmate parole files can contain gross errors – in one case, an inmate was
denied parole because his modest arrest record was accidentally replaced with the long and
violent criminal record of another inmate with the same name. 105 The prisoner has no access to
the documents the Board reviews, making it impossible for errors to be corrected, or even know
the mistake was happening. 106 A system that denies inmates a chance to clarify potential errors
of this magnitude is a broken system.
When combined with the issue of medical care, the cost of the failing parole system
becomes apparent. A bill from the 80th Legislative Session, HB429, required TDCJ to
investigate the cost-savings of releasing to parole inmates over age 55 who are receiving medical
care and have not committed a “3G” offense. 107 The study found that this release, which would
affect only 5,000 inmates, would save $20.2 million in medical costs annually, $29 million in
reduced contract beds, and cost only $6.4 million in increased parole supervision costs. 108 That’s
a net savings of $42.8 million – money that could be reallocated to the sundry medical reforms
TDCJ healthcare really needs instead of being used to cover the exorbitant medical costs of a
small group of low-risk prisoners.

27

An aging prison population
Medically Recommended
Intensive Supervision
Failures
Below is a small sample of
elderly prisoners eligible for
MRIS who remain
incarcerated. Their names
have been changed to protect
their privacy.
•

•

•

Martin Jimenez: age 69,
parole eligible since 1997
– Mr. Jimenez is legally
blind with one amputated
leg, and his kidneys are
failing. Every two days, he
needs a four-hour dialysis
treatment.
Donald Gomez: age 87,
parole eligible since 2006 –
Mr. Gomez uses a walker.
At age 87, he was given a
four year “set off” by the
Board preventing him from
being considered for release
until age 90. He recently
died in custody.
Jack Carter: age 68 – Mr.
Carter is blind and suffers
from brain damage caused
by a gunshot to the head.
He is partially paralyzed on
his left side (due to a
stroke), and suffers from
Hepatitis C, high blood
pressure, and high
cholesterol. He’s served
over 33 years in prison.

HB429 brings to light a fourth problem: the aging
population of Texas prisons, a side effect of excessively long
sentencing and failure to release eligible parole candidates. The
number of prisoners aged 55 and over is increasing at a rate of
10% each year. These prisoners are more likely to have chronic
and expensive health conditions: Though they made up only 5.4%
of the prison population in 2005, they accounted for 25% of
hospitalization costs.109
Another way to decrease the costs of geriatric prisoners is
medically recommended intensive supervision, or MRIS. MRIS
is a recommendation from UTMB or Texas Tech that a prisoner
be released early due to medical problems that make him or her
no longer a threat to society. Increasing MRIS recommendations
and approval would relieve taxpayer burden without increasing
any criminal threats.
However, the Parole Board frequently denies MRIS to
qualified applicants.
In fact, of the 70 or so inmates
recommended for MRIS each month, the Board only approves an
average of seven, 110 another indicator of its poor performance in
terms of following appropriate release guidelines.
Among the eligible applicants for MRIS is Carlos Chavez.
Mr. Chavez’s cancer was in its terminal stage, giving him 60 to 90
days to live. 111 He was denied MRIS because the Board thought
he was a “threat to society,” despite being literally unable to get
out of bed. Instead of spending his last few weeks with his family,
he spent that time in TDCJ's medical and fiscal care.
These are only a few examples of the many geriatric
inmates with extensive and expensive medical problems. Their
release to MRIS could save the state millions of dollars, which
could be reallocated to address urgent and underfunded health
care problems.

28

Recommendations
•

Provide incentives for potential employees to help TDCJ hire and retain qualified security
and medical staff. Incentives could include competitive salaries, loan-forgiveness
program, or a positive and supportive work environment that encourages job longevity.

•

Create a statewide Sentencing Review Commission charged with the task of creating new
sentencing laws that are consistent with nationwide standards, reducing the reliance on
excessively long sentences, and examining the fiscal and human costs of sentencing in
Texas.

•

Demand accurate fiscal notes on all legislation that increase sentence length through
enhancing punishment or the creation of a new offense, and look at the cost of adding
prison beds and units.

•

Hold the Board of Pardons and Paroles accountable for its parole decisions, and demand
that it follow its own release guidelines. Because the Board of Pardons and Paroles has
complete discretion in determining who will be released to parole, it is essential that they
follow their own guidelines so that they are releasing low-risk individuals more often
than high-risk individuals.

•

End the secrecy and mitigate costly errors during the parole process by allowing
prisoners access to their own file and the information that is being considered by the
Parole Board. These parole files often contain grave errors including incorrect
information related to the individual’s criminal history which can delay their parole
release. Allowing access to view what the Board is considering – save any sensitive
information related to victims – can ensure that the information inside the file is correct,
accurate, and relevant to the individual being considered for parole.

•

Increase MRIS approval rates to a reasonable level as established by a Sentencing
Review Commission. This can be done by implementing the findings of the study passed
by HB429 for the release of prisoners over 55 years of age with a non-3G offense who
are receiving medical care. This would allow them to be supervised in the community
where they are eligible to receive Social Security and/or Medicare benefits to pay for
their care.

29

MENTAL HEALTH
Medical horror story: Josh Dillard
Josh Dillard had a long, well-documented history of mental illness. 112 Before entering
TDCJ, Mr. Dillard suffered from Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and had
numerous bouts of depression. Since childhood, he had been admitted to multiple psychiatric
facilities, including Austin's Shoal Creek residential psychiatric hospital.
His mental state worsened after he entered TDCJ. By 2002, he had attempted suicide four
times. Mr. Dillard was transferred to a psychiatric facility, where UTMB determined he was at
heightened long-term risk for suicide, especially during times of increased depression. By 2003,
Mr. Dillard had been diagnosed in TDCJ with a major depressive disorder, a psychotic disorder,
polysubstance abuse, antisocial personality disorder, and schizoaffective disorder.
Even one of these diagnoses should have been enough to ensure close supervision and
mental health care for Mr. Dillard. Yet, in 2004, UTMB failed to update Mr. Dillard’s electronic
mental health records with his recent suicidal behaviors when he was transferred between
prisons. Consequently, a unit psychiatrist, without even evaluating Mr. Dillard personally,
changed his mental health diagnosis to “no diagnosis,” removing Mr. Dillard’s designation as an
inmate with current psychiatric illness.
Two years later, in February 2006, a unit psychotherapist finally saw Mr. Dillard.
However, the psychotherapist disregarded Mr. Dillard’s extensive history of mental instability
and suicide attempts, and instead determined he was at low risk for suicide and did not need any
mental health follow-up care. This was Mr. Dillard’s last visit with anyone in TDCJ’s Mental
Health department.
Had Mr. Dillard been accurately diagnosed, perhaps TDCJ would not have cleared him
on December 27, 2006 for placement in administrative segregation, otherwise known as solitary
confinement, as a punishment for a violation of prison rules. The UTMB system did not make
the screening nurse aware of Mr. Dillard's past psychiatric history, nor did it require her to ask
him about his history of suicide attempts, although TDCJ policies strictly prohibits housing
suicidal or mentally ill inmates in segregation. He was easily cleared for solitary confinement,
according to documents and testimony from litigation.
The next day, December 28, the inmates housed across the hall from Mr. Dillard
discovered that he was no longer responding when they yelled for him. The inmates then yelled
for a guard to check his cell. At 7:40 p.m., guards discovered Mr. Dillard hanging from a sheet
tied to the lamp fixture in the cell. He was also bleeding profusely from a deep wound in his left
arm which he had made with a razor blade found in his cell. Mr. Dillard was taken to a local
hospital and pronounced dead an hour later.

30

The Other Victims –
Prisoners’ Families

Jane Campos and her son,
Joshua Dillard, as a child

When he was very young, Josh
Dillard was adopted by Jane
Campos.
Mr.
Dillard’s
biological mother used drugs
and alcohol during her
pregnancy, and abandoned him
as a small child. Ms. Campos
raised him as if he was her own
son, despite his life-long
serious mental illness.

Ms. Campos learned her son
died when she got a call late at
night on her cell phone. She
was returning home from her
job as a sergeant at the Bastrop
County Jail.
The prison
chaplain callously told Ms.
Campos her son was dead, and
hung up.
Ms. Campos’ son died just a
few days after she had visited
him on Christmas Eve.

“My son was not a throw
away,” said Ms. Campos. “I
want my son’s story to be
known.
People forget the
people in prison are human
beings with families that love
them. My son was loved by me.
He may not have been loved by
anyone else in this world, but
every person in the prison
system is loved by somebody.”

TDCJ and UTMB’s callous disregard for Mr. Dillard’s
mental health history caused his death. UTMB did not keep Mr.
Dillard’s mental health records up-to-date, which caused his
current mental illness to go unnoticed. Mr. Dillard should never
have been in solitary confinement, an utterly unsuitable
environment for a mentally ill, suicidal person. In addition, a
number of mental health employees violated TDCJ and UTMB
policies and procedures by failing to adequately evaluate Mr.
Dillard’s mental health and his risk of attempting suicide. TDCJ
and UTMB have policies that should prevent people like Mr.
Dillard from being placed in un-safe solitary confinement.
These life-saving measures, however, are often ignored.
TDCJ and UTMB staff must follow established policies
in order to improve its medical practices for inmates with mental
illness in order to avoid deaths in custody – including avoidable
suicides.
Overview of mentally ill prisoners
Mentally ill persons are a group often ignored in Texas
prisons, perhaps because it doesn’t make much sense for them to
be imprisoned in the first place. Incarcerating mentally ill
people does not serve the goals of rehabilitation or punishment.
The standard prison setting lacks the resources and professionals
necessary for effective mental health treatment and does not
provide a safe environment for mentally ill individuals or those
around them. Moreover, a prisoner with a severe mental illness
is unlikely to understand he is being punished thus making his
incarceration senseless and wasteful.
Mental illness in prison is regrettably common. In fact,
27.25% of Texas prisoners, or 42,556 people, are identified as
mentally ill or mentally retarded. 113 Sources suggest this
number may be far higher. 114 In contrast, for every eight
mentally ill people who enter jail or prison in Texas, only one
enters a mental hospital. 115
The complications of imprisoning the mentally ill, rather
than effectively treating them, are dangerous and costly to
society. Mentally ill people are substantially more likely to
recidivate after their release than other prisoners, about 12%
more likely for first-time reoffenders. Mentally ill repeat
offenders cost the state $682 million each year in prison beds
31

and treatment. On the other hand, treatment in a community mental health center for the same
number of individuals for one year would cost only $92 million. 116
The Texas Civil Rights Project receives many letters from obviously mentally ill
prisoners. Notable examples include the prisoner who sent copies of “peace declarations”
between himself and the United States for the Civil War, World War II, and Vietnam, the
prisoner who threatened to sue the Project through the Intergalactic Space Court, and the
prisoner who asked us to bring FBI Agents Mulder and Scully, the characters of the TV show
The X-Files, to investigate the way the government was programming his brain to make him
commit crimes. These are not prisoners in mental health treatment facilities. These are prisoners
in top-security TDCJ units, receiving bare-minimum mental health care that contributes little
toward their rehabilitation.
It is understandable that some mentally ill offenders will go to prison rather than be
diverted into effective community programs. Yet prisons are still required by law to provide
them with a constitutional level of care, and accommodations for their mental illnesses under the
Americans with Disabilities Act. Of the 42,556 mentally ill inmates in TDCJ custody, 11,388
have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression: the three mental
illnesses considered the most serious by the Texas legislature and the only illnesses with funding
set aside for their treatment. 117
About 20,000 inmates have mental health problems so severe they must take medication
to treat them. 118 Yet TDCJ contracts with only 432 psychiatric employees, total; about one
psychiatric employee for every 50 prisoners on medication. Even this isn’t evenly distributed,
though. Thirty-seven out of the 112 TDCJ units do not have a single mental health professional
on staff, including four out of the five Substance Abuse Felony Punishment (SAFP) units, special
units for individuals with substance abuse issues. 119
Not only does this extreme staff shortage adversely affect the 27.25% of inmates with a
diagnosed mental illness, but it also affects the thousands of other inmates who live with these
mentally ill persons in an environment that fosters anxiety, stress, and physical altercations.
Furthermore, some prisoners who are not diagnosed as mentally ill, such as sex offenders,
violent offenders, or prisoners with drug problems, could likely benefit from psychiatric help if
such help were available to them. This benefit would extend to the public, who would have
fewer mentally unstable ex-prisoners returning to their communities on release.
Available mental healthcare
The psychiatric treatment currently available in prisons is wholly insufficient. The
contract between TDCJ and CMHCC specifies certain access-to-care measures particular to
mentally ill prisoners. 120 Mental health outpatients who submit sick call requests must be seen
within 48 hours (72 hours on weekends), and must be seen by a qualified mental health
professional within 14 days of triage. These low response standards, the same ones used for
32

Mental Illness in Solitary
Confinement
Human Rights Watch observes
“Some inmates with no prior
history of mental illness
develop clinical symptoms of
psychosis or severe affective
disorders [in administrative
segregation]. For prisoners
with a history of mental illness,
the isolation, lack of social
interaction and lack of
structured activities can
aggravate their symptoms.
Even worse, mental health
service for prisoners in
segregation is usually far
worse than for the general
population. The result is
mental agony, sometimes to
the point of suicide.”

In 2009, TDCJ housed 8,639
prisoners in administrative
segregation—TDCJ’s form of
solitary confinement.
Prisoners in “ad seg” are kept
in a cell that is barely large
enough for a bunk and a toilet.
They have just one hour of
indoor recreation each day.
Their only human contact is
with the guards who feed them
and take them out for exercise.

Prisoners write to TCRP
complaining they have spent
years in ad seg, and have no
opportunity for release to the
general prison population. The
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
found similar conditions in
Mississippi unconstitutional in
Gates v. Cook.

dental care in TDCJ, are unwise for a type of health problem
that can quickly degrade into self-destruction, violence against
others, or even suicide, especially since this section extends to
outpatients with histories of mental health problems who
should be closely monitored. TDCJ must improve this
response time to prevent severe mental health consequences.
Negative effects of prison
Prison is a damaging and expensive place for people
with mental illnesses. Guards are untrained in mental health
procedures and available therapies in prison are extremely
limited. There is almost no follow-up after the prescription of
sensitive medications. Solitary confinement, known in TDCJ
as administrative segregation or “ad seg,” is commonly used
to house mentally ill prisoners. It is a punishment that not only
aggravates existing psychopathic conditions but can cause
new ones in otherwise healthy inmates. 121 According to
expert testimony from a board-certified psychiatrist, who has
spent over 20 years on the faculty of Harvard Medical School,
solitary confinement can cause “severe psychiatric harm” and
induce panic attacks, hallucinations, paranoia, and selfdestructive behavior. 122 These and other negative effects mean
continuing to warehouse mentally ill individuals in prisons is
not an acceptable option.
Additionally, as TDCJ populations increase toward the
units' maximum capacity, special psychiatric housing fills up
quickly, leaving many mentally ill inmates housed within the
general population. This can be damaging to both groups.
One inmate wrote the Texas Civil Rights Project after being
attacked by the schizophrenic prisoner with whom he had to
share a cell. In addition, mentally ill or mentally retarded
inmates (also known as MHMR inmates) are much more
likely to be victims of assault, sexual assault, or exploitation,
and are especially vulnerable when housed in understaffed
units with regular inmates. MHMR inmates, by nature of their
disabilities, also have a more difficult time making prison
employees aware of their health problems and are less likely
to be believed when they ask for help.
The most effective and humane way to improve mental
health care in prisons is to divert mentally ill individuals away
from prison conditions that may only exacerbate their
33

problems, and instead relocate them to treatment facilities or community supervision where they
can access helpful programs.
Recommendations
•

Develop and expand a state-wide prison diversion program for mentally ill persons,
including prevention, diversion, and discharge elements to redirect mentally ill persons to
healthier and less expensive options like state hospitals and community mental health
care centers.

•

Greatly expand the use of Telepsychiatry use in TDCJ prisons to better serve the needs of
those who are mentally ill and who must necessarily remain in prison.

•

Follow established policies and eliminate the use of solitary confinement for mentally ill
inmates and institute proper screening for mental illness before placement in solitary
confinement. Instead, rely on less destructive punishments, such as taking away
privileges. If solitary housing is absolutely necessary to protect the individual, staff, or
other prisoners, move the inmates to a single cell within the general population and
require frequent staff observation and evaluations.

•

Substantially increase mental health staff in prison units.

•

Regularly screen the prisoner population to identify inmates with a history of mental
illness and ensure proper treatment is provided. This can be done by reducing the
response time by one-half to inmate mental health complaints, especially complaints from
inmates who have an established history of mental illness.

34

INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Medical horror stories: H1N1 and norovirus
In 2009, a deadly new form of the flu took the nation and the world by storm. H1N1, or
swine flu, caused widespread panic, killing 12,000 Americans and infecting 60 million more as
of March 2010. 123
When a vaccine was found, approved, and delivered to Texas, it was first administered to
high-risk groups in the public, according to Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines:
pregnant women, juveniles, and those with medical conditions, like immune system disorders,
that put them at higher risk for contracting the disease. After that, the state requested doses of
the vaccine for 45,224 prison inmates who fit into the same high-risk groups, 124 a measure well
in line with public health and constitutional objectives.
But many in the public were outraged – even though they were at much lower risk for
contracting H1N1 than the inmates to be vaccinated, and even though the state is constitutionally
obligated to provide adequate health care for prison inmates. Citizens complained of
“preferential treatment” for prisoners, though the treatment would be equal, not superior, to that
given the public. Some suggested that treating the prisoners would only be acceptable if they
were used as “guinea pigs” for the vaccine, 125 showing the level of the public's misunderstanding
about the state's responsibility for its prisoners.
After this outcry, and despite the huge stakes of a statewide prison system infected with
swine flu, including a substantial risk to prison employees, the Texas Department of State Health
Services suddenly became “unclear” about when it would fill the requests for the prison
vaccines.
Fortunately, the impact of H1N1 in Texas prisons was limited. But a recent norovirus
outbreak shows the potentially disastrous effect of infectious diseases in a prison environment.
Over the course of a few weeks, an astonishing 1,600 inmates and employees in 26 different
Texas prisons became infected with norovirus. 126 Sometimes called stomach flu, norovirus is a
highly contagious disease that causes vomiting and diarrhea, 127 especially problematic symptoms
in a small space with limited sanitation like a prison. Had the disease been anything more severe
than norovirus, the chance of disastrous consequences for the inmates, the employees, and the
public would be very high. Of course, if an H1N1 epidemic had taken hold, it would have cost
the taxpayers far more to care for all the sick prisoners than to simply vaccinate them in the first
place.

35

Centers for Disease Control
and Prison Healthcare
The CDC provides specific
guidelines for disease control in
correctional facilities and is a
good source of constitutional
standards.
For example, for tuberculosis,
the CDC recommends entry and
periodic TB screening, treatment
of both latent TB infection and
TB disease, airborne precautions,
and comprehensive discharge
planning.
TCRP strongly recommends
Texas adopt the CDC’s standards
for providing prison healthcare.

The reasons for prevention and prompt treatment of
these kinds of infectious diseases are not limited to simply
attaining constitutional care for inmates: public health and the
state budget are also at high risk. Prisons are notorious
breeding grounds for infectious disease. The close quarters,
often poor sanitary conditions, and inconsistent identification
and treatment of diseases in prison lead to a high rate of
infection that is expensive for taxpayers and dangerous to
public health. Moreover, prisoners often engage in high-risk
behaviors that increase exposure to these diseases, such as
tattooing, drug use, and risky sexual activity.
Prisons have become incubators of infections. Uneven
treatment produces drug-resistant strains of diseases, which can
be introduced to the public when prisoners are released.
Hepatitis, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and staph infections are
among the most dangerous infectious diseases in prison. Each
of these poses a serious risk to both prisoners and the public,
and Texas prison health care must include proactive and
preventative measures to prevent their spread.
Hepatitis

CI!:".TERS

FOR

DISEASE"

CONTROL AND PREVENTION

Hepatitis A, B, and C are three similar viruses that
cause infectious liver disease, although the specific effects and
mode of transmission differ. Hepatitis A has a relatively short
duration and usually clears up on its own, but Hepatitis B and
C can become chronic diseases requiring long-term treatment
that places a large burden on the resources available for prison
healthcare. 128 Hepatitis B is transmitted through bodily fluids
such as blood or semen and can cause a chronic infection that
sometimes leads to liver failure and death. The best course of
care for Hepatitis B is prevention: an effective vaccine is
available and should be offered to inmates upon entry. Infected
inmates should be monitored regularly. 129

Hepatitis C, or HCV, has no vaccine, and is pervasive in the prison population. While
only 1.8% of the general population is infected with HCV, it is estimated that nearly 40% of
prisoners nationwide have the disease. 130 HCV is transmitted through blood, particularly
through the use of non-sterile needles for drug injection and tattooing and, less frequently,
through sexual contact. The complications can be serious, with 60-70% of those infected with
Hepatitis C developing chronic liver disease and 1-5% dying from cirrhosis or liver cancer. 131

36

Once HCV has progressed to a certain point, the only treatment option is a liver
transplant, a $400,000 procedure. 132 The CDC recommends screening all inmates upon entry for
HCV risk factors, and if those factors are present, testing inmates for the disease. This early
identification of those infected will help save lives and money later on.
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that can lead to respiratory and other problems,
including chest pains and coughing blood. It is spread through the air, and thus prison
populations are especially vulnerable to it. 133 If not treated properly, TB can be fatal.
As of 2002, an incredible 20.4% of Texas prison inmates tested positive for tuberculosis,
making it the most prevalent illness in the entire Texas prison system. All inmates are tested for
TB at intake, making its identification relatively easy. Many inmates, however, don't finish the
treatment they are prescribed, leaving lingering infections when they are released to the free
world. It is important the prisons encourage inmates to finish their treatment courses and that
prisons provide proper access to care to aid this treatment. Failure to do so harms not only the
prisoners, but the communities they re-join upon release.
HIV/AIDS
HIV/AIDS is by far the most costly and dangerous disease in Texas prisons. Though
only 1.7% of inmates are infected with HIV/AIDS, it is the number-one killer of Texas prisoners.
Prisoners are infected with HIV at a rate five times higher than the general public. 134
Not only is HIV/AIDS deadly, it's expensive to treat. Over 40% of TDCJ's entire
pharmaceutical budget goes towards HIV-related medications. Even one new case of HIV will
cost over $300,000 in treatment over the patient's lifetime. Preventative steps, like condom and
clean needle distribution, should not only be encouraged, but mandated. 135
Texas prisons appear to do a decent job of making HIV testing available, offering it to all
new inmates upon intake screening and mandating it upon release. Ten years ago, TCRP
received many letters from prisoners complaining they were not receiving any HIV treatment at
all—that flood has slowed to a trickle today. Most complaints TCRP receives about HIV
treatment today relate to the schedules for administering HIV medications.
HIV is particularly sensitive to the uneven treatment that often occurs in prisons. The
virus easily morphs into new, more drug-resistant strains when treatment is irregular. These
drug-resistant strains of HIV are especially deadly, and can be brought into the “free world”
when a prisoner is released. Prisons must take measures to ensure HIV-positive prisoners are
provided the appropriate medications on the required schedules and checked on regularly.
Post-prison HIV care is one of the most important areas in which Texas must improve.
HIV poses a significant public health risk due to the number of former inmates who do not
37

What Works: Florida’s
Staph Education Program

follow up on their antiretroviral therapy medication, or ART,
after leaving prison. This creates drug-resistant HIV strains that
could infect members of the general public due to continuing
high-risk behavior.

The Florida state prison system
took the simple step of
displaying large posters showing
what staph infections look like
and describing the symptoms, to
great success in preventing staph
complications. This system
encouraged inmates to report
possible staph infections,
allowing for prompt screening
and treatment.

A study led by a physician at UTMB-Galveston showed
that only 5.4% of HIV-positive inmates filled their first 30-day
ART prescription, which can be paid for by a government
program if the inmate requests, within 10 days of release, or
soon enough to avoid treatment interruption. An additional
47.7% filled their prescriptions within 60 days, but that was after
an interval long enough to allow for mutation of the virus.136
The study authors suggest this delay indicates released inmates
face significant economic or administrative barriers to filling
their prescriptions.

TCRP frequently receives letters
from prisoners complaining
about large boils they believe are
caused by “spider bites.” In fact,
these boils are likely staph
infections.

Prisons, parole authorities, healthcare facilities, and
communities must work together to alleviate this problem and
make access to essential medications easier, especially in
communicating to inmates the availability of free ART treatment
upon request. Without this coordination, the crisis of HIV/AIDS
will only worsen as new strains and unchecked risky behaviors
spread throughout the general public.

In some cases, the prisoner has
seen medical personnel who
misdiagnosed the “spider bite.”
This anecdotal evidence suggests
both prisoners and medical
personnel could benefit from
learning about how to recognize
staph infections.
Staph is also easy to prevent with
proper hygiene. Encouraging
prisoners to wash their hands
regularly, for example, and
providing anti-bacterial hand
soap could dramatically reduce
the incidents of staph infections.

Staphylococcus
Staphylococcus bacteria, also known as “flesh-eating
bacteria” or simply “staph”, can cause serious infections that
sometimes lead to contagious open wounds, liver and kidney
failure, sepsis, or even death. The bacteria are transmitted from
skin-to-skin contact or through frequently-touched objects, such
as doorknobs.
Staph is another example of a disease that has become
drug-resistant over time, 137 making its prevention all the more
imperative. In fact, prisons are the largest incubators of MRSA,
the drug-resistant form of staph. Poor ventilation, overcrowding,
and shared mattresses, toilets, and showers all contribute to staph
thriving in prisons. 138

Prisoners with real staph infections are often told their infectious abscesses are only
pimples or “spider bites”, and are not separated from the general population or from prison
employees who are equally vulnerable to infection. This simple step of separation would greatly
increase awareness of staph and reduce its devastating effect.
38

Inmate complaints of possible staph must be taken seriously. The $28 it costs to test for a
staph infection is a worthwhile price to pay for preventing a disease that costs taxpayers, on
average, between $20,000 and $40,000 to cure. 139
Preventative methods
HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C are transmitted largely through risky behaviors in
prison, including sharing dirty needles for drug use or tattoos and engaging in unprotected sexual
contact. A clear, cheap, and effective preventative method is to try to take the risk out of some
of these behaviors.
Though programs like TDCJ's Wall Talk, a peer education program, do a good job of
educating inmates about the risks of such behaviors, it cannot stop the behaviors from happening,
nor can increased punishments or incentives. The distribution of condoms and clean needles is
an important harm-reduction step. In the long run, this distribution has been proven to decrease
rates of these infectious diseases and will save taxpayer money. The federal ban on prison
needle exchanges was lifted in December 2009, opening up the way for expansion and
innovation in those programs. 140 Though condom and needle distribution is sometimes seen as
an encouragement of illegal behavior, when combined with education, it can go a long way
toward moving prisoners to clean lifestyles, benefiting everyone when prisoners are released.
Furthermore, programs in Canada, Europe, and parts of the U.S. have shown condom distribution
to be an inexpensive and effective means of preventing expensive HIV and HCV infections in
prison. 141
Basic hygiene and sanitation can prevent infections like the norovirus and staph. TCRP
receives a large volume of complaints about the sanitary conditions of TDCJ units, including
reports of overflowing toilets and the denial of running water and soap, conditions which easily
facilitate the spread of infectious disease. Prompt attention to maintenance problems could
quickly resolve these disgusting conditions and cut off potential disease incubators.
As far as infectious diseases in prison, prevention really is the best medicine. Many of the
most dangerous and expensive conditions in Texas prisons could be avoided if policymakers are
willing to take the simple steps necessary to prevent them. Reducing the incidence of infectious
disease in prison could also go a long way toward recruiting new prison employees and reducing
TDCJ's revolving-door employment problem.
Recommendations:
•

Improve sanitary conditions inside state prisons to prevent infectious disease outbreaks
like H1N1 and norovirus. This is especially important in light of the fact that 95% of
prisoners leave prison and return to Texas communities.

39

•

Provide condoms and clean needles to inmates to stop the spread of costly and dangerous
fluid-borne diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. Providing condoms does not
condone sexual activity; instead, it provides an inexpensive solution to the spread of lifethreatening diseases that ultimately costs the state millions in medical costs.

•

Screen inmates for Hepatitis C upon entry, as CDC recommends, and begin early
treatment, if necessary. Offer vaccinations for Hepatitis B which is the most effective
way to prevent the disease.

•

Ensure successful completion of tuberculosis treatments. Completing these treatments is
essential to eliminating the threat of continual outbreaks.

•

Increase education for both prisoners and staff members about staph infections and test
all inmates who exhibit symptoms related to the infection. These measures will help
avoid much higher costs down the road by providing prevention and intervention
techniques.

•

Develop new ways to ensure that prisoners continue their HIV/AIDS treatments postrelease, including pre-release education on payment alternatives and the risks of uneven
treatment, to prevent catastrophic public health consequences.

40

CONCLUSION
David West, Larry Louis Cox, Adam Whitford, and Josh Dillard represent only a few of
the prisoners whose health and lives have been lost in the Texas prison health care system. There
are hundreds more like them. The Texas Civil Rights Project hears from them and their grieving
families daily. We dedicate this report to them.
This legislative session, our leaders will face tough decisions. In a time when cuts to
education and health care programs are likely, it will be extremely difficult politically to resist
slashing prison health care budgets. Fortunately, Texas can alleviate this serious problem by
taking other, low cost, solutions. Parole non-violent offenders. Release the extremely ill on
medically recommended intensive supervision. Closing a handful of prisons would both be
politically easier than closing schools or hospitals, and help solve the prison health care crisis,
without creating additional crime.
Times are tough now. But, if Texas is not careful, our prison system could end up in the
same place as California’s: paying additional billions of dollars, under federal supervision, and
being forced to release tens of thousands of prisoners. It’s time our legislators got “smart on
crime,” not just “tough on crime.”

41

APPENDIX
Medical Horror Stories
Micah Burrell 142
Micah Burrell suffered from asthma since childhood. When he entered prison in 2001 on
drug and property charges, he was diagnosed again at the unit's asthma clinic. He was prescribed
an inhaler, and made regular visits to the asthma clinic to monitor his condition.
In 2004, Mr. Burrell was placed in administrative segregation—“solitary confinement.”
TDCJ and UTMB policy prohibits housing prisoners with certain medical conditions, including
asthma, in “ad seg.” A nurse screens prisoners for medical problems before they are segregated,
but is not required to ask prisoners if they suffer from the identified conditions.
On August 1, 2004, around 1:00 p.m., other inmates noticed Mr. Burrell was having
trouble breathing and called for the guards to come.
It wasn't until 1:15 p.m. that guards, performing a security check, noticed that Mr. Burrell
was unresponsive. They could have called for medical help. Instead, they stood outside his cell
calling in to him: "That doesn't look like an asthma attack!" "I can see your foot moving, you're
faking!" "You should've pulled this on the next shift!" The guards laughed and pointed at Mr.
Burrell instead of taking him to the infirmary as he gasped for breath.
Finally, at 1:32 p.m., when Mr. Burrell was convulsing on the floor and unable to
breathe, a guard entered the cell and slapped Mr. Burrell’s face to see if he would wake up.
When the guards finally brought him out of the cell, a nurse treated Mr. Burrell, hearing only his
death rattle. Mr. Burrell was rushed to the hospital, where he arrived at 2:20 p.m., but by then it
was too late. Attempts at resuscitation failed and Burrell was pronounced dead at 2:35 p.m., at
age 24, of an entirely preventable cause.
Donald Novel 143
Donald Novel entered TDCJ in December of 2005 on a drug charge. Mr. Novel lived his
entire life with cystic fibrosis. CF causes lung problems, blocked sweat glands, and blockage of
pancreatic enzymes so that the patient cannot digest food without help.
In the free world, Mr. Novel took Ultrase, an enzyme supplement, to control his
condition. Ultrase gave him 100,000 units of lipase daily to help break down his food.
Logically, an inmate with a chronic condition that is well-controlled in the free world should
receive the same care once he is incarcerated. In fact, when Mr. Novel entered the Bastrop
County Jail, his medications continued as prescribed. He was in excellent health, even gaining
weight and doing well under Bastrop County's medical care.

42

When Mr. Novel transferred to TDCJ’s Estelle Unit, however, things changed. Rather
than following his “free world” doctor's orders, or continuing the very good care he was
receiving in county jail, UTMB doctors decided to take their own approach to Mr. Novel's care.
The unit doctor, obviously unfamiliar with CF, asked whether Mr. Novel's digestive problems
were caused by excessive drinking, had him examine his own x-ray to see if it had worsened, and
denied him liver function tests that are standard practice for CF patients.
Worse, Mr. Novel’s medication was switched, against his “free world” doctor's
recommendations, to a generic enzyme—a medication so ineffective that the Cystic Fibrosis
Foundation has banned doctors from prescribing it. The generic provided only 24,000 units of
lipase per day—less than a fourth of what Mr. Novel’s deadly condition required. Suddenly, Mr.
Novel’s body could only process a quarter of the food it could before. He lost weight rapidly.
Though he ate as much as any prisoner, his body, unable to take nutrients from his food, was
essentially starving to death.
The medication switch was a costly mistake. Even so, Mr. Novel and his family took all
the right official steps to correct it. His mother allowed the standard 45 business days to
investigate a medical complaint, even as her son was rapidly losing weight. She called, emailed, and wrote to TDCJ and UTMB, and had her son's “free world” doctor, the director of the
Austin Cystic Fibrosis Clinic, do the same. Then she waited, only to receive form letters in
response. UTMB and TDCJ knew of Donald Novel's condition. They knew the medication
wasn't working. They knew he was slowly starving. Yet they did nothing.
Finally, after Mr. Novel had lost 38 pounds and suffered from diarrhea for more than
three months, the UTMB doctors finally decided that the generic medications were not working.
Ultrase was ordered in April 2006. The diarrhea stopped two days later, and Mr. Novel began
gaining back the weight he had lost.
But his problems were far from over. In June 2006, not long after the success of
obtaining the correct digestive medications, Mr. Novel was taken off both Ultrase and one of his
inhalant medications, essential for his CF-caused lung problems. He developed a cough and was
prescribed a suppressant, causing mucus to sit in his lungs, the opposite of recommended care for
CF. This exacerbated his breathing problems: his body was unable to get enough oxygen.
In December 2006, after months of weakening due to incorrect medications, Mr. Novel
was hospitalized for low oxygen levels and severe breathing problems, an incident that was only
the latest in a series of attacks. By April 2007, he was no longer able to eat solid foods and was
oxygen-dependent. He could not breathe on his own for long enough to take a shower.
Experimentation with cheap drugs and ineffective treatments weakened Mr. Novel to the point
that he would never recover. He was transferred to a permanent medical facility to finish his
sentence.
As a last resort, Mr. Novel applied for MRIS. He and his family hoped that, outside of
prison, he could resume treatment with a CF specialist and receive the lung transplant he now
43

needed to live. His application was turned down, even though he had served almost his entire
sentence. Mr. Novel waited to be released on his standard parole date in September 2007. He
had lost 50 pounds after entering TDCJ care. He was unable to walk or breathe on his own.
Two days after his release, Donald Novel died in the hospital of a heart attack, caused by
the lung condition that TDCJ had deemed not severe enough to warrant early release to a
specialist's care.
Juan Palote 144
Juan Palote’s death is perhaps the most horrific story of preventable death. It is
particularly unconscionable that a crowd of TDCJ employees stood just outside his cell, easily
able to help, and simply looked on as Mr. Palote committed suicide. On November 14, 2005 at
approximately 8:45 a.m., a guard found Mr. Palote in his cell hanging from the ceiling by a
bootlace tied around his neck. Mr. Palote was yelling, “Let me die!” in Spanish as he tried to
hang himself – and that’s what the TDCJ guards eventually let him do.
The guard ordered Mr. Palote to stop, and warned that chemical agents would be used if
he did not obey. Mr. Palote did not stop and the guard sprayed with pepper spray, while he had a
noose around his neck.
After being sprayed, Mr. Palote began beating his head against his cell repeatedly. The
guard again ordered him to stop. Mr. Palote continued and was again sprayed. In the meantime,
several more employees had arrived on the scene, including a physician’s assistant, a lieutenant,
and several other officers.
Once the lieutenant arrived on the scene, the guard suggested that they open the cell and
go in to help, but the lieutenant instructed the staff to wait for the chemical agents to take effect.
Mr. Palote continued to hang from the bootlace and bang his head against his cell. By the time
the officers finally went into his cell, Mr. Palote was dead.

44

ABOUT THE TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT
The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) promotes racial, social, and economic justice through
education and litigation. TCRP strives to foster equality, secure justice, ensure diversity, and
strengthen communities. Since its beginning, TCRP has achieved substantial system gains in
ensuring justice for all Texans. TCRP uses education and litigation to make structural change in
areas such as voting rights, police and border patrol misconduct, sex discrimination, employment
bias, privacy, disability rights, grand jury discrimination, traditional civil liberties (i.e. free
speech), and Title IX in secondary education.
TCRP was founded in 1990 as part of Oficina Legal del Pueblo Unido, a non-profit communitybased foundation in South Texas. Oficina Legal del Pueblo Unido, Inc., started in 1978 as a
community, grassroots foundation to provide legal assistance and education, without cost, to
low-income people, particularly minority persons and individuals victimized by discrimination.
TCRP began with an unpaid staff of two in the Austin Peace Building—an attorney and an office
manager. Within a few months, TCRP was able to hire an attorney for its South Texas office.
TCRP now has offices in Austin, San Juan, Odessa, and El Paso, with a staff of more than 35
people.
For 20 years, the Texas Civil Rights Project has been a tireless advocate for racial, social and
economic equality in Texas, through its education and litigation programs.
Our achievements include:
* Handling more than 2000 cases;
* Publishing eight Human Rights reports on issues such as hate crimes and the death penalty;
* Compiling five “self-help” manuals;
* Publishing 300 opinion editorials in Texas newspapers;
* Giving 250 speeches and talks on civil rights; and,
* Conducting community and lawyer trainings for more than 22,000 persons.
Our South Texas office has worked steadfastly to extend equal rights to farm laborers and
colonia residents in the Rio Grande Valley, and improve their living and working conditions.
We have sued over every kind of misconduct in every part of Texas — city police, sheriff
deputies, Department of Public Safety officers, and Border Patrol agents. Because of our work,
jails in Hidalgo, El Paso, Henderson, Tom Green, Williamson, Travis, Bexar, Dallas, and Brown
Counties do much more now in preventing inmate suicide, providing interpreters for deaf
prisoners, protecting vulnerable inmates from sexual assault, administering HIV medications,
and making them accessible for inmates with disabilities.
45

TCRP set the national model in ballot accessibility for blind voters, and has led more than two
dozen regional compliance campaigns in Texas under the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA). Thanks our efforts, churches and courthouses in Texas are much more accessible to
people with disabilities – and government more accountable.
We pioneered a unique “circuit-rider” outreach program in rural West and South Texas serving
abused and undocumented women and children under the Violence against Women Act
(VAWA).
We have prodded the Texas Supreme Court to improve pro bono services for poor and lowincome families in the state, 90% of whom have unmet legal needs each year.
Our Title IX educational and litigation programs on sexual harassment, bullying, and equal
sports opportunities have helped make rural middle schools and high schools more hospitable for
young women. Our work has also opened up the prospect of athletic scholarships to college for
them.
Our “Equality under the Law” campaign addresses benign discrimination against AfricanAmericans and Hispanic-Americans in banks, restaurants, motels, and other places of public
accommodation.
Our efforts to help citizens, permanent residents, and students of South Asian and Arab descent,
and of Muslim tradition, who fell victim to post-September 11 discrimination, include filing a
suit against a major airline, and enlisting Texas attorneys on a pro bono basis to represent
individuals who were questioned by the FBI.
We worked with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) to help
create single-member school board districts in Del Valle ISD, and assisted in redistricting the
Texas Legislature and Texas Congressional districts so as to protect the voting and
representational rights of minority citizens.
We assisted the NAACP in bringing the U.S. Department of Justice to review Austin Police
Department policies and make changes to APD’s use of force practices in minority communities.
We joined with the American Jewish Congress in one of the first court cases in the country to
challenge the constitutionality of government funding of a religiously orientated job-training
program that used the Bible as a text and proselytized to its trainees.
We are a leading voice in raising questions about the fairness of Texas' death penalty scheme,
and the possibilities of executing innocent people. So, too, are we an intrepid advocate of
traditional civil liberties, such as free speech and assembly, due process, and equal protection
under the United States and Texas Constitutions.
A history of Oficina Legal del Pueblo Unido, Inc. and The Texas Civil Rights Project is available
at http://www.texascivilrightsproject.org/about/history.htm.
46

NOTES
1

Mike Ward,“Texas prison health care on critical list,” Austin-American Statesman, (24
July 2006) http://www.aclutx.org/article.php?aid=338.
2

Name has been changed to protect privacy.

3

Documents regarding Mr. West’s death were obtained by TCRP litigation in McCoy v.
TDCJ. Also see, Jordan Smith, “TDCJ Negligence Alleged: 'No One Dies of an Asthma
Attack,’” Austin Chronicle (17 March 2008) http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/
Issue/story?oid=oid:456313.
4

Mike Ward, and Bill Bishop, “Sick in Secret: Gaps in evaluating care let some mistakes
go unnoticed,” Austin-American Statesman, (16 December 2001) http://www.statesman.com/
specialreports/content/specialreports/prisons/16prisonmain.html.
5

See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 18-19, (1992) (Thomas, J., dissenting).

6

Id., 19.

7

Melvin Gutterman, “The Contours of Eighth Amendment Prison Jurisprudence:
Conditions of Confinement,” S.M.U. Law Review 48 (1994-1995): 373, 374.
8

Alison Brill, “Rights Without Remedy: The Myth of State Court Accessibility after the
Prison Litigation Reform Act,” Cardozo Law Review 30 (2008): 645, 646.
9

Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).

10

Gutterman, 374-75.

11

429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976).

12

TDC became the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, or TDCJ, in 1989, when the state
legislature reorganized the prison system.
13

429 U.S. 97, 98, 101.

14

Id., 102 (citations omitted).

15

Id., 102-103.

16

Id., 104 (quotation omitted).

17

Id., 837.
47

18

Id., 836.

19

Id.

20

679 F.2d 1115 (5th Cir. 1982), amended in part, vacated in part by 688 F.2d 266 (5th
Cir. 1982).
21

William Wayne Justice, “The Origins of Ruiz v. Estelle”, Stanford Law Review 43
(1990): 1. See also Steve J. Martin, and Sheldon Ekland-Olson, Texas Prisons: The Walls Came
Tumbling Down, (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1987).
22

Id., 4.

23

Id., 6.

24

Id.

25

Id.

26

Id.

27

Id.

28

Id.

29

Id.

30

Id.,1149 (internal quotation omitted).

31

467 F.3d 459 (5th Cir. 2006).

32

Id. (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 829).

33

Id.

34

Id.

35

Id., 463-64.

36

Ira P. Robbins, “Managed Health Care in Prisons as Cruel and Unusual Punishment,”
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 90 (1999-2000): 195, 197.
37

Id., 202.

38

Id., 214.
48

39

Id. (footnotes omitted).

40

Id., 215.

41

Id.

42

Id., 222.

43

Contract FY 2010-2011. Article 1, Section 1.2.

44

Texas Government Code § 501.051(a) (Vernon 2007).

45

Id. § 501.051(e).

46

Id. § 501.063(a).

47

Id.

48

Id. § 501.063(b).

49

Id. § 501.063(c), (d).

50

Id. § 501.063(e).

51

Id. § 501.064.

52

Id. § 501.146(a).

53

Id.

54

Id.

55

Id. § 501.149(a).

56

Id. § 501.149(b).

57

Id. § 501.150.

58

Id.

59

Id.

60

Id. § 501.151.

61

Id.
49

62

Id.

63

Article XI, Section B

64

Dallas County paid over $2 million in judgments to prisoners and their families who
suffered from poor health care while UTMB provided care at the jail. TCRP represented one
family in Sims v. Dallas County, where a sixty-year-old grandmother with schizophrenia died
when the jail failed to treat her pneumonia. During the litigation, TCRP learned only one nurse
was on duty to care for over three thousand prisoners.
65

Scott Henson, “Lack of accountability explains why Texas counties dropping UTMB jail
healthcare,” Grits for Breakfast, (28 November 2007) http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2007/
11/ lack-of-accountability-explains-why.html.
66

Mike Ward, and Bill Bishop, “Texas laws – and those who rule on them – keep records
of poor prison medicine out of public view,” Austin-American Statesman, (18 December 2001)
http://www.statesman.com/specialreports/content/specialreports/prisons/18prisonmain.html.
67

Id.

68

Texas Government Code §552.134.

69

Mike Ward, and Bill Bishop, “Medical care improves only when outsiders get involved,
former prison lawyer says,” Austin-American Statesman, (19 December 2001)
http://www.statesman.com/ specialreports/content/specialreports/prisons/19prisonmain.html.
70

David Theis, “Big House Health Care,” UTMB
http://www.utmb.edu/utmbmagazine/features/big.house.asp.
71

Id.

72

Ward, “Texas prison health care.”

73

Id.

Magazine,

(Fall

2007)

74

Scott Henson, “UTMB: Mental health care quality declining at TYC,” Grits for
Breakfast, (29 August 2007) http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2007/08/utmb-mental-healthcare-quality.html.
75

Mark Collette, “Telemedicine has a global reach,” Galveston Daily News, (30 March
2008) http://galvestondailynews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=ac62e0e39941f46bc8545f57966c90b3.

76

H. Mekhijan, et al., “Patient satisfaction with telemedicine,” Journal of Telemedicine and
Telecare, 5(1) (1999): 55-61, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10505370.
50

77

Collette.

78

UTMB, see UTMB Center for Telehealth Research and Policy, “Telemedicine at a
Glance,” The University of Texas Medical Branch, (13 January 2010)
ehn.utmb.edu/_pdf/Telemed.pdf. American Psychiatric Association, see American Psychiatric
Association, “Topic 4: Telepsychiatry,” The American Psychiatric Assocation, (5 January 2011)
http://www.psych.org/Departments/HSF/UnderservedClearinghouse/Linkeddocuments/telepsych
iatry.aspx. American Medical Association, see Kristen Philipkoski, “A Prescription for
Telemedicine,”
Wired,
(6
July
1999)
http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/
news/1999/07/20462.
79

Scott Henson, “Death Sentence for Stealing a Playstation: Texas prison healthcare
problems
not
'unusual',”
Grits
for
Breakfast,
(19
November
2006)
http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2006/11/death-sentence-for-stealing.html.
80

Name has been changed to protect privacy.

81

Mike Ward, and Bill Bishop, “Ill Inmates Urge Each Other to Join Experiments:
Becoming guinea pigs to avoid poor prison care,” Austin-American Statesman, (17 December
2001)
http://www.statesman.com/specialreports/content/specialreports/prisons/17prisonmain.html.
82

Ward, “A New HIV.”

83

Ward, “Ill Inmates.”

84

The Pew Center on the States, and Council of State Governments, “Sentencing and
Corrections Profile: Texas,” The Pew Center on the States, (February 2007)
http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/TX%20State%20Profile%202-22-07.pdf.
85

Janet Elliot, and Steve McVicker, “Texas prisons almost full, almost out of money,”
Houston Chronicle, (19 Jan 2005) http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?
id=2005_3836229.
86

Associated Press, “Texas’ Prison Guard Shortage Eases,” Palestine Herald-Press, (27
June 2009) http://www.palestineherald.com/local/local_story_178163436.html.
87

Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “TDCJ Biennial Budget Reduction Plan,” (15 Feb
2010)
http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/publications/finance/TDCJ_Biennial_Budget_Reduction_
Plan.pdf.
88

Ward, “Texas prison health care.”

51

89

Mike Ward, “Guard shortage forces closure of prison wing in West Texas,” AustinAmerican Statesman, (10 Jan 2008) http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/
stories/01/10/0110guards.html.
90

Martha J. Frase, “The Price of Ike,” American Association of Medical Colleges
Reporter, (March 2009) http://www.aamc.org/newsroom/reporter/march09/ike.htm.
91

University of Texas Medical Branch, “UTMB’s Correctional Managed Care program to
cut 363 staff,” (18 May 2010) http://www.utmb.edu/CMC-May-2010/CMC_Release_5-1810.pdf.
92

Solomon Moore, “California Must Cut Prison Population,” New York Times, (4 August
2009) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/us/05calif.html.
93

Brenda Bell, “Falling crime rates in Texas outpaced by U.S. decline,” Austin-American
Statesman, (29 May 2009) http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/
investigative/entries/2009/05/29/crime_drops_in_texas_but_its_d.html.
94

Scott Henson, “Texas incarceration far outstrips population growth,” Grits for Breakfast,
(25 January 2007) http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2007/01/texas-incarceration-faroutstrips.html.
95

Dayna Worchel, “Tyler Man Gets 35 Years for Drug Possession,” Tyler Morning
Telegraph, (5 March 2010) http://www.tylerpaper.com/article/20100305/NEWS08/3050307.
96

John Nova Lomax, “Another Small Texas Town Overpunishes Another Piddly Drug
Offender,” Houston Press, (11 March 2010) http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/2010/03/
bay_city_crack_overkill.php.
97

“Life sentence for man’s 9th DWI,” Austin American Statesman, (11 August 2010)
http://www.statesman.com/news/local/central-texas-digest-life-sentence-for-mans-9th855077.html.
98

Paul Stone, “Palestine man sentenced to 99 yaers [sic] after theft retrial,” Palestine
Herald-Press, (30 January 2011) http://palestineherald.com/local/x135632346/Palestine-mansentenced-to-99-yaers-after-theft-retrial.
99

Scott Henson, “Fiscal Note Fantasy World,” Grits for Breakfast, (23 February 2005)
http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2005/02/fiscal-note-fantasy-world.html.

52

100

Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “Statistical Report Fiscal Year 2008,” (January
2009): 15, http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/publications/executive/FY08%20Stat%20Report.pdf. This
statistic does not include the 13,106 prisoners in TDCJ’s state jail facilities. State jail prisoners
are not eligible for parole, but always serve sentences of less than two years. For purposes of
this report, TCRP also counts prisoners eligible for release on discretionary mandatory
supervision as parole eligible.

101

Id., 30.

102

Sunset Advisory Commission, “Sunset Staff Report: Texas Department of Criminal
Justice, Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Correctional Managed Health Care Committee,”
(October 2006): 29, http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/80threports/tdcj/tdcj.pdf.

103

Id., 31.

104

Scott Henson, “How about some balance on the Board of Pardons and Paroles?” Grits for
Breakfast, (7 July 2007) http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2007/07/how-about-some-balanceon-board-of.html.
105

Jordan Smith, “A Whacked-Out System: Inmate's lawsuit focuses on secret and
unreasonable
Texas
paroles,”
Austin
Chronicle.
(30
March
2007)
http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid:460806.
106

Texas Government Code. §508.313.

107

“3G” refers to a section of the Texas penal code describing certain crimes which deserve
harsher, more inflexible punishment, such as requiring that an inmate serve half of his real-time
sentence before being eligible for parole. 3G crimes include (but are not limited to) murder,
sexual assault, aggravated robbery, and any crime in which there is a finding of a deadly weapon.
A defendant cannot be given probation when convicted of one of these offenses. See Tex. Code
Crim. Proc. 42.12, § 3(g).
108

Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “Report to the Legislature Pursuant to House Bill
429, 80th Legislature, Health Care Savings from Releasing Certain Offenders Age 55 and Over,”
(1 December 2008) http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/publications/finance/HB429_120108.pdf.

109

Ward, “Texas prison health care.” Austin-American Statesman (24 July 2006)
http://www.aclutx.org/article.php?aid=338.

110

Scott Henson, “AIDS drugs, healthcare for elderly inmates driving TDCJ medical costs,”
Grits for Breakfast, (3 April 2008) http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2008/04/aids-drugshealthcare-for-elderly.html.
111

Name has been changed to protect privacy.
53

112

TCRP represented Josh Dillard's mother in litigation following his death.

113

Marc A. Levin, “Policy Perspective: Mental Illness and the Texas Criminal Justice
System,” Texas Public Policy Foundation: Center for Effective Justice, (May 2009): 1,
http://www.texaspolicy.com/pdf/2009-05-PP15-mentalillness-ml.pdf.
114

See Human Rights Watch, “Ill-Equipped: U.S. prisons and offenders with mental illness,”
(21 October 2003) http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2003/10/21/ill-equipped-0, Jamie Fellner; “A
Corrections Quandary: Mental Illness and Prison Rules,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties
Law Review 41-2 (Summer 2006): 392, http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/crcl/vol41_2/
fellner.pdf; and, Council of State Governments, “Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council:
Charting the Safe and Successful Return of Prisoners to the Community,” Reentry Policy
Council,
(2005)
http://reentrypolicy.org/Report/PartII/ChapterII-B/PolicyStatement11/
ResearchHighlight11-4.
115

Levin, 1.

116

Mental Health Association in Texas, “Factsheet,” Mental Health Association in Texas,
(28 February 2003): 1, http://www.mhatexas.org/mhatexasMAIN/FACTSHEET1final3_03.pdf.
117

Levin, 1.

118

Id., 5.

119

See “Unit Directory,” Texas Department of Criminal Justice, (December 2009)
http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/unitdirectory/All.htm.
120

See Contract FY 2010-2011. Article XI, Section B.

121

Maria Godoy, “Q&A: Solitary Confinement & Human Rights,” National Public Radio,
(27 July 2006) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php? storyId=5586937. See sidebar.
122

Stuart Grassian, “Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement,” Madrid v. Gomez, 889
F.Supp. 1146, (N.D. Cal. 1995).
123

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “CDC 2009 H1N1 Flu Media Briefing,”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (29 March 2010) http://www.cdc.gov/media/
transcripts/2010/t100329.htm.
124

Mike Ward, “Swine flu vaccine is prison-bound: high-risk inmates in line to get doses as
early as next week,” Austin-American Statesman, (28 October 2009) http://www.statesman.com/
news/content/region/legislature/stories/2009/10/28/1028prisonflu.html.

54

125

Associated Press, “Texas Backs Off Plan for Inmate Vaccinations,” NBC Dallas-Fort
Worth, (28 Oct 2009) http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/health/Inmates-May-Get-Swine-FluVaccine-Before-You-66743392.html.
126

Mike Ward, “Stomach flu outbreak hits prisons,” Austin-American Statesman, (26 Jan
2010) http://www.statesman.com/news/texas/stomach-flu-outbreak-hits-prisons-195553.html.

127

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Norovirus: Q&A,” Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, (15 December 2010) http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/
gastro/norovirus-qa.htm.
128

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Hepatitis A FAQs for the Public,” Centers
for Disease Control, (17 September 2009) http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/A/aFAQ.htm.
129

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Hepatitis B FAQs for the Public,” Centers
for Disease Control, (9 June 2009) http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/B/bFAQ.htm.
130

Theis.

131

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public,” Centers
for Disease Control, (9 June 2009) http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/C/cFAQ.htm.
132

Theis.

133

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Tuberculosis (TB): Basic TB Facts,”
Centers for Disease Control, (1 June 2009) http://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/basics/default.htm.

134

Scott Henson, “ACT UP: AIDS should have been bigger TDCJ Sunset focus,” Grits for
Breakfast, (23 October 2006) http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2006/10/act-up-aids-shouldhave-been-bigger.html.
135

Id.

136

Jacques Baillargeon, et al., “Accessing Antiretroviral Therapy Following Release from
Prison,” The Journal of the American Medical Association, 301(8) (2009): 848-857,
http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/301/8/848.
137

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Healthcare-associated Methicillin Resistant
Staphylococcus aureus,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/
ncidod/dhqp/ar_mrsa.html.
138

Silja J. A. Talvi, “Deadly Staph Infection 'Superbug' Has a Dangerous Foothold in U.S.
Jails,” AlterNet, (4 December 2007) http://www.alternet.org/rights/69576/.
55

139

Mary K. Reinhart, “Staph infection 'superbug' strikes more often,” East Valley Tribune,
(16
Oct
2007)
http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/article_694a8532-6760-579b-91f53d74bbd72203.html.
140

Bob Egelko, “U.S. repeals funding ban for needle exchanges,” San Francisco Chronicle,
(18
Dec
2009)
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/12/17/
MNKM1B5S7L.DTL&tsp=1. For an example of the effectiveness of clean-needle programs,
note the 1997 study that showed HIV infections drop 5.8% in 29 cities around the world after
implementation of such programs.
141

Joseph D. Tucker, et al., “The catch 22 of condoms in US correctional facilities,” BMC
Public Health, 7 (2007): 296, http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/7/296.
142

TCRP represented Mr. Burrell’s surviving family members in litigation.

143

Name has been changed to protect privacy.

144

Name has been changed to protect privacy.

56

 

 

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