Human Rights Violations on Texas’ Death Row – By Human Rights Clinic, University of Texas School of Law
The State of Texas stands today as one of the most extensive utilizers of the death penalty worldwide. Consequently, inmate living conditions on Texas’ death row are ripe for review. This report (download in PDF) demonstrates that the mandatory conditions implemented for death row inmates by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) are harsh and inhumane. Particular conditions of relevance include mandatory solitary confinement, a total ban on contact visits with both attorneys and friends and family, substandard physical and psychological health care, and a lack of access to sufficient religious services. Investigation into these conditions reveals that current TDCJ policy violates international human rights norms and standards for confinement. Conditions on death row at TDCJ’s Polunsky Unit must be remedied posthaste.
In 1999, Texas reintroduced the practice of mandatory solitary confinement for every individual convicted of capital murder. Solitary confinement involves total segregation of individuals who are confined to their cells for twenty-two to twenty-four hours per day, with a complete prohibition on recreating or eating with other inmates. An average cell is no bigger than 8 feet by 12 feet, and contains only a sink, a toilet, and a thirty-inch-wide steel bunk with a thin plastic mattress. Inmates are rarely provided with adequate blankets and often suffer from ongoing physical pain due to the mattress provided. The majority of cells include a small window, but inmates are only able to see out by rolling up their mattress and standing on it. This fact, paired with the lack of adequate outdoor recreation time, means that daily exposure to natural light is rare. Every individual on Texas’ death row thus spends approximately 23 hours a day in complete isolation for the entire duration of their sentence, which, on average, lasts more than a decade. This prolonged solitary confinement has overwhelmingly negative effects on inmates’ mental health, exacerbating existing mental health conditions and causing many prisoners to develop mental illness for the first time. In addition to the detrimental effects of isolation, the practice of setting multiple execution dates means that many prisoners are subjected to the psychological stress of preparing to die several times during their sentence.
Inmates on death row experience severe barriers to accessing medical care, in part due to being housed in solitary confinement and being less able to effectively self-advocate. Inmates are not offered regular physical or psychological check-ups, and must rely on the guards to communicate and facilitate any healthcare appointments. Such requests for care are, at best, responded to within a few days, but can go several weeks without a response and are often ignored or forgotten about. In terms of psychological healthcare – an issue of great importance given that a large majority of inmates on death row suffer from some form of psychological illness – only inmates who were already taking psychiatric medication are able to meet regularly with psychiatrists. Of those inmates who are eventually given access to psychological care, they are generally only prescribed some form of psychiatric medication, thus exacerbating the unmet need for some form of counseling or non-pharmaceutical therapy. Inmates with mental illness who do not necessarily want or need prescription drugs are essentially provided with only two options: take unwanted medication, or forgo psychological healthcare entirely.
Another major issue of concern is the lack of access to religious services on death row. The extent to which inmates are able to access religious text is limited, as Christian bibles are the only material available from the prison chaplain. Although Christian inmates can request such materials, they are rarely given access to ministers until the holiday season. For inmates of different faiths, such as Islam or Judaism, the situation is more difficult as they must solely rely on outside sources for their religious materials. They are provided with no access to practice their chosen faith, and are often met with contempt when seeking such access. This has created a harsh environment for inmates who do not adhere to Christianity, and has enabled a discriminatory system on the basis of religion on Texas’ death row.
This report, prepared by the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, concludes that current conditions in TDCJ facilities constitute a violation of Texas’s duty to guarantee the rights to health, life, physical integrity, and dignity of detainees, as well as its duty to prevent cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of its inmates. These duties are recognized by human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other human rights bodies have repeatedly issued opinions decrying the inhumane conditions present at the Polunsky Unit. Particularly, international human rights bodies have considered that the prolonged and mandatory use of solitary confinement is “disproportionate, illegitimate, and unnecessary.”
Read more: Download in PDF “2017 HRC Designed To Break You Report”
On May 18th, 2016, Charles Don Flores’ attorney filed his final appeal focusing on the issue that the hypnotized witnesses false identification was unreliable, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal issued a stay of execution and ordered an evidentiary hearing on the issue of junk science/hypnosis.
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Published in “The Dallas Morning News” (US) on May 15, 2018
AUSTIN — For many people, the word “hypnosis” evokes images of swinging pocket watches, swirling vortexes and impressionable subjects mesmerized by movie villains.
They think of Get Out, The Manchurian Candidate, even Office Space.
Texas has the most robust forensic hypnosis program in the country, training police officers across the state to sharpen or recall crime witnesses’ lost memories. As more and more states ban the practice, law enforcement here turns to it at least a dozen times a year.
Now, two Dallas-area death row inmates are arguing it’s time to stop. Their executions have been delayed as they fight their convictions, which they claim were based on “junk science.”
“Once you have, at a minimum, serious questions that a technique sent a man to death row, you need to change the way you use that technique,” Gregory Gardner, an attorney who has defended both men, told The Dallas Morning News. Hypnosis “does so much more harm to innocent people than getting guilty people behind bars.”
Is forensic hypnosis quackery that’s sent innocent men to their deaths, or a powerful law enforcement technique that can crack open cold cases? One of the state’s most controversial investigative tools is about to be tested. [Read more on “The Dallas Morning News”]
Published in CBS Local News on May 14, 2018
AUSTIN (AP) — Two Texas death row inmates are pushing for the state to ban forensic hypnosis in criminal cases.
The Dallas Morning News reports that hypnosis played a critical part in the arrest and conviction of 48-year-old Charles Don Flores and 37-year-old Kosoul Chanthakoummane. Both men allege their convictions were based on “junk science” and their executions have been delayed.
Texas has the most robust forensic hypnosis program in the U.S. Police officers are trained statewide to sharpen or recall witnesses’ lost memories. The Texas Rangers say they’ve conducted two dozen hypnosis sessions over the past two years.
Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger says hypnosis is used by trained professionals in only a few cases. He says information obtained through hypnosis must be corroborated with other information or evidence. [Read more on CBS Local]
Published in the “Dallas Observer” (US) in March 27, 2018
Charles “Big Charlie” Flores and Richard Childs were searching for money when they slid under the garage door of a one-story brick home on Bergen Street. The Black family had built it in the early 1960s when the one-block neighborhood of Farmers Branch was nothing but pasture. They had raised two children and four grandchildren there and were hiding $39,000 in cash for their son Gary Black. Flores and Childs aimed to find it when they entered the house early in the morning Jan. 29, 1998.
Flores was a big man rumored to have connections to the Mexican mafia. Childs, who had a strung-out Joe Dirt look, was involved with Gary Black’s ex-wife, Jackie Roberts. Both men had criminal records. Childs and Flores distributed methamphetamine and used it. They had been smoking it with Childs’ girlfriend shortly before they pulled up in a psychedelic-colored Volkswagen Beetle and slipped underneath the Blacks’ garage door at 7:30 a.m., police say. [Read more on the “Dallas Observer”]
Published in “The Dallas Morning News” (US) on Oct 20, 2017
The state’s top appellate court halted Charles Don Flores’ execution last year to allow the trial court to determine whether the hypnosis session amounts to “junk science,” as the defense contends.
The sun wasn’t up yet, but neighbors couldn’t help noticing the Volkswagen Beetle with purple waves that pulled in front of a house on Bergen Lane in Farmers Branch.
Two men got out and went inside the home.
Later that morning, William Black found his wife, Elizabeth “Betty” Black, and their Doberman, Santana, shot to death.
The house had been ransacked. Someone had been looking for — but hadn’t found — $39,000 in cash hidden inside, drug money the couple had been holding on to while their son was in prison.
Days after the murder, the next-door neighbor who had gotten the best look at the two men asked Farmers Branch police to hypnotize her. She wanted to relax so she could describe one of the men she had glimpsed through the blinds that morning. [Read more on “The Morning Dallas News on October 20, 2017]
Article published in “Austin Chronicle” (US) on June 3, 2016
Attorneys argue Charles Don Flores’ conviction is rooted in junk science
Charles Don Flores received a stay of execution from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals just six days before his scheduled execution date of June 2. On May 19, the court had received a series of motions filed by Flores’ attorneys arguing that their client should have his execution stayed and be granted a new trial because the merits of his conviction were potentially rooted in junk science – namely, a pivotal witness who was only able to identify Flores at the scene of the murder after police put her under hypnosis in order to secure a testimony.
Flores, 46, was sentenced to death after being found guilty of capital murder for the killing of Betty Black, who was found dead in her house in Farmers Branch (northwest of Dallas) on the morning of Jan. 29, 1998. Investigators knew the murder took place at the time of an attempted burglary; Black’s house had been trashed in an effort to find a five-figure stash of cash Black and her husband were holding for their son Gary while he was in prison. [Read more on “Austin Chronicle”]
Published in Otago Daily Times (New-Zealand) on May 22, 2010
Horror at capital punishment in the United States led Nigel Benson to befriend a death row inmate. Meet Charles Don Flores.
I first got to know Charlie Flores about a year ago. We have been writing regularly ever since.
“Delayed conversations,” he calls our letters.
I’ve never met him and am unlikely to. For Flores is death row inmate # 999299 in the Polunsky Unit in South Livingston, Texas.
I first learned about Flores after he wrote a book, Warrior Within, about his life on death row.
For the past 11 years, he has lived on death row in a 3m by 3m cell.
There is a bed, a narrow window, a stainless steel toilet and that is it.
He tells me he can see birds through the window.
Flores (40) was convicted in 1999 of capital murder (murder which carries the death sentence) after an elderly woman was shot dead by two men during a burglary.
It is a charge he vehemently denies in his letters.
He insists he wasn’t even there.
“I look back at my experience that put me on Texas death row and one would think that such a saga would be confined to made-for-Sunday-night television movies.
“Unfortunately, it is not,” he says.
“There are things in my past that I regret and am ashamed of. I have been in jail before and I have used and sold drugs. And, when I learned that I was wanted for capital murder, I did the worst thing I could do – I ran. I knew that I would be sent to prison, or worse, forever and this scared me greatly. So, I acted impulsively and I ran. [Read more on Otago Daily Times]