Texas Prisoner Sues Over Paltry Sleep

Michael Garrett alleges cruel and unusual punishment over schedule of 3.5 hours a night
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2024 9:54 PM CDT
Updated Apr 7, 2024 5:33 AM CDT
Texas Prisoner: We Get 3.5 Hours of Sleep a Night
   (Getty / DanHenson1)

A prisoner in Texas has won the latest battle in his long-running legal fight to get more sleep. Michael Garrett says he and other inmates in the Estelle Unit in Huntsville get only 3.5 hours of scheduled sleep per night, and even that is interrupted by a head count, reports the Texas Observer. Garrett filed suit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 2013, alleging a violation of his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The case has been winding through the courts since—"an extreme example of how long it takes and how difficult it is to prevail on an Eighth Amendment lawsuit, even on what should be a straightforward question," per Reason.

Garrett, however, recently got some good news from the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, notes the ABA Journal. The court overruled a lower judge and said Garrett doesn't have to prove that his health ailments—including migraines, seizures, vertigo, hypertension, and kidney disease—have been caused by his limited sleep, only that the prison rules raise a "substantial risk" of harm. The case now goes back to district court. Garrett's lawsuit points out that inmates in his unit are required to go to bed at 10:30pm, only to be roused for a head count at 1am. Breakfast begins an hour after that. Per the lawsuit, there is no other time in the prison's daily schedule for sleep.

"[N]ighttime prison conditions—namely the hallway lighting, heavy doors slamming, and prisoners yelling—further imperil inmates' sleep prospects during this three-and-a-half-hour window," the Fifth Circuit wrote in its opinion. The Observer notes that the lawsuit comes as researchers have begun to more seriously document the link between prisoners' health and poor sleeping conditions. "When you're in prison, this is every single day for years on end," says Michele Deitch of the University of Texas. "And that has such a cumulative impact on someone's health." (More Texas stories.)

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