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Prison reform group sues Pennsylvania officials over isolation inmate's suicide

[JURIST] The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Tuesday in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania [official website] against several officials in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) [official website], alleging that their sustained use of solitary confinement on State Correctional Institution Cresson (SCI-Cresson) inmate Brandon Palakovic led him to commit suicide. Palakovic's family claims that he suffered life-long mental health issues [press release] and that the prison failed to provide for Palakovic's needs while he was in isolation. ALC's complaint alleges that SCI-Cresson prisoners with mental health issues are routinely placed in solitary confinement for minor, non-violent rule infractions, without consideration for inmates' serious medical needs for mental health care. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website], which investigated SCI-Cresson following Palakovic's suicide, issued a findings letter [press release] earlier this year holding that SCI-Cresson's "use of long-term and extreme forms of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness, many of whom also have intellectual disabilities, violates their rights under the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution and under the Americans with Disabilities Act."

The legality of solitary confinement [JURIST news archive] has been an ongoing debate in the US, with many calling for comprehensive prison reform [JURIST podcast]. In June Colorado enacted a law changing its traditional methods of solitary confinement [JURIST report] by mandating psychiatric evaluations and therapy for inmates diagnosed with mental illness and qualifying for disciplinary intervention. In February New York issued reforms the use of such practices on minors. In October UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez urged the US to immediately end [JURIST report] the solitary confinement imposed in 1972 on Albert Woodfox [AI backgrounder]. In June 2011 at least 400 inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison in California initiated a hunger strike [JURIST report] in protest of solitary confinement. In January 2011 the Washington Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that holding death row inmates in solitary confinement indefinitely is not an impermissible increase [JURIST report] in the severity of punishment.

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