(NEW YORK)—The decision by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to grant “safekeeping status” to an incarcerated journalist, Jason Renard Walker, gives some assurance that his life is no longer in immediate danger, PEN America said today, in welcoming the decision while also noting that this status will severely restrict his educational and recreational activities, potentially to the detriment of his health. PEN America said Walker’s situation highlights the risks incarcerated people face when they engage in writing or journalism, and illustrates why protecting their free expression is essential.

PEN America issued a call to action in Walker’s case last week for supporters to appeal to authorities in Texas to grant his request for the special safekeeping status to protect Walker’s safety; 158 people signed PEN America’s petition, and thanks to collaboration with the advocacy group Showing Up for Racial Justice, a further 180 people wrote individual emails to state officials.

Moira Marquis, senior manager of PEN America’s Freewrite Project, expressed gratitude for supporters across the country who wrote to the Texas prison authorities on behalf of Walker. She said: “We will continue to monitor his case to ensure his safety and that his basic right to free expression is not relinquished as a result of his incarceration. But we must be mindful of the fact that he is now in solitary confinement, which in and of itself poses a risk to his overall health.” The United Nations regards prolonged solitary confinement as “psychological torture.”

Walker’s whistleblowing journalism from inside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice exposed criminal activity, including a white supremacist gang dealing the drug K2 and the group’s connection to guards as the primary conduit for drugs entering the prison. His reporting, which was picked up by newspapers outside of the prison, led to him being violently assaulted by the same gang in five different prisons. Walker’s expose of violence has been featured in the Houston Chronicle, among other publications.

“PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program advocates for the right of incarcerated people to engage in journalistic reporting, and creative and research-based writing without fear,” said Marquis. “We also insist on policies and practices that protect incarcerated people from any retaliation, official or unofficial, that may occur as a direct result of their writing and publishing activities and challenge all carceral censorship.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.