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Doing Hard Time In Texas

In Texas prison officials are turning to SuperMax to contain prisoners who are members of violent gangs, but some say the punishment goes too far. CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports.

In Texas it doesn't get any worse than the new Estelle Administrative Segregation unit or simply ADSEG short hand for hard time solitary confinement.

It's called minimum human contact confinement. Some prisoners are looking at months even years of minimum human contact.

Prisoners call this place SuperMax. They are feed through a slot in their door. They shower in their cells. When they are let out of their cells, they are strip searched, hand cuffed and escorted by two guards to a cage for recreation.

The best prisoners get out one hour a day, some only three times a week. They get a basketball hoop, a pull up bar and their only chance to talk to anyone face-to-face. These are the men the prison system says are the worse case inmates, violent or potentially violent.

CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger visited with prison officials and inmates to ask them about ADSEQ.

Reporter: "Could you survive in ADSEQ?"

Prison Official: "Me as an individual? Probably not.

The day CBS visited Major Don Posten was running the day to day operations.

"This is an extreme measure and it is something that we have to do in order to control the inmates and their behavior," says Posten.

Reporter: "Let me ask you if they were to open this door right now would you take a swing at me?"

Inmate: "No sir I wouldn't."

Reporter: "Would you take a swing at the Major?"

Inmate: "I would think about it, but I wouldn't do it."

Arizona was among
the first states to build SuperMax prisons. The state director of corrections Terry Stewart like the authorities in Texas believe strongly in a better safe than sorry philosophy and will send an inmate to a super max prison even before he or she does anything violent.

"The years on the state prison system will be remiss if it didn't take preventative measures to try to ensure that the larger general population is safe," says Stewart.

Reporter: "But you still don't have to commit and act to end up in this SuperMax. How is that justice?"

Stewart: "Well, Richard I'm not sure that the management of gang leadership and gang membership revolves around the issue of justice the law is clear all the way to the Supreme Court we can certainty do things that may not be acceptable in the free world."

Craig Haney a professor of law and psychology at the University of California has studied solitary confinement.

Haney disagrees with tis type of imprisonment saying, "People go crazy. We stopped this in the 19th century precisely because solitary confinement that was this severe and extreme and prolonged drove people insane."

Still officials in charge of the minimum human contact corrections facility insist there is no other choice for some inmates and that peace in prison is more important than the peace of mind of anyone in ADSEQ.

Reported by Richard Schlesinger