Texas prisons enter statewide lockdown. Officials won’t say how long it will last.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has begun a lockdown of all its prisons, which officials said was prompted by a surge in drug-related inmate homicides over the past five years.

The lockdown, which began Wednesday morning, will restrict the movement of approximately 129,000 currently incarcerated people, according to prison-reform advocacy groups. TDCJ didn’t say when it will end its statewide sweep.

The lockdown takes place as the state experiences its second-hottest summer on record and faces mounting criticism for keeping the majority of its prisoners in facilities with no air conditioning. The scalding heat has driven some Texas prisoners to soak their bedsheets in toilet water to stay cool, according to testimony recently provided to TDCJ officials.

Prison-reform advocates argue the lockdown will only exacerbate already-dire conditions in the prisons, such as staffing shortages. During the sweep, any prisoners who had previously done work inside the prison have been stripped of their positions, worsening the understaffing.

Jessica Dickerson, treasurer of Texas Prisons Community Advocates (TPCA), said many of the TDCJ’s heat mitigation policies can’t function without appropriate staff.

“[T]he more people you fire, the worse your staffing issues get,” Dickerson said. “And we’ve already had so many deaths this summer because TDCJ’s heat-mitigation policies cannot function without the appropriate staff.”

The current lockdown also halts all visitations to incarcerated people, and TDCJ is ending delivery of traditional mail and moving to an all digital system, according to officials with the state agency. They said the latter measure is needed because paper mail has become a delivery system for drugs.

“Over the last few years, there has been a significant increase in paper soaked in K2 or methamphetamines coming into our facilities,” TDCJ said in a media statement.

The banning of paper mail follows a 2021 TDCJ rule that banned all mail except for letters written on plain white paper and photographs of loved ones.

Dickerson argues that the TDCJ system has been plagued with a significant drug problem for years. That increase occurred during a time when visitations were limited or at times nonexistent due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

“[In in a recent report, TDCJ Executive Director] Brian Collier himself, said that over the last five years has been a 492% increase in drugs in the system,” Dickerson said.

At the same time, TDCJ continued to crack down on mail being delivered to prisoners.

“So, what I can feel comfortable saying is either their program failed, or it’s not coming through the mail,” Dickerson said.


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