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ACLU publishes report on dangers of solitary confinement

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Thursday released [press release] its first report [text, PDF] on the effects of solitary confinement on inmates with physical disabilities. The report, titled "Caged In: The Devastating Harms of Solitary Confinement on Prisoners with Physical Disabilities," details how prisoners in solitary confinement are kept in small cells roughly the size of parking spots for approximately 22 hours a day, which has a negative impact on prisoners without disabilities and an even larger impact on those with disabilities. The report stated that "[s]tress, enforced idleness, and limited access to health care, including medically necessary prescriptions and physical therapies, among other factors, can lead to severely diminished health outcomes for prisoners."For prisoners suffering from sight or hearing loss, the impact is even more profound, as

[t]hese prisoners often experience a heightened form of sensory deprivation while trapped in the mind-numbing emptiness of solitary confinement. Not only are these prisoners locked in their cells for most or all of the day, they are also frequently denied access to in-cell constructive or recreational activities, such as reading, writing, or watching television, which can be used to help stimulate the mind while in isolation. Instead, many are left to languish in a state of total idleness for weeks, months, and even years at a time.
The report also notes that although "no publicly available data on the number of prisoners with disabilities in solitary confinement or any other form of restrictive housing" the "large population of prisoners with disabilities" makes it important to address this issue. It also noted that often prisoners with disabilities were not placed in solitary because they had violated any rules but as a means of protective housing, however, many are unable to have the care and assistance needed to survive. The report ends with model policies and principles.

The legality of solitary confinement has been an ongoing debate in the US, with many calling for comprehensive prison reform [JURIST podcast]. Last January US President Barack Obama announced a ban on the federal prison system's use of solitary confinement for juveniles [JURIST report]. In September 2015 the Association of State Correctional Administrators, in partnership with the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School released a report [text, PDF] estimating that between 80,000 to 100,000 prisoners were in what correctional officials call "restrictive housing" in 2014. Also that September, California agreed [JURIST report] to restrict its controversial practices of solitary confinement. The class action lawsuit was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which alleged that approximately 3,000 prisoners were kept in isolated conditions in which they were alone for 22 hours a day, sometimes in windowless cells. In March 2014 the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that Virginia could continue to automatically house death row inmates in solitary confinement. In June 2014 Colorado enacted a law [JURIST report] changing its traditional methods of solitary confinement by mandating psychiatric evaluations and therapy for inmates diagnosed with mental illness and qualifying for disciplinary intervention.

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