Federal appeals court rules cruel punishment claims can proceed against prison News
Federal appeals court rules cruel punishment claims can proceed against prison

[JURIST] The Third Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] on Friday ruled [opinion] that the family of a man who committed suicide while in solitary confinement can argue that he faced cruel and unusual punishment, even if they don’t argue that the treatment lead to his suicide. In July 2012, Brandon Palakovic committed suicide [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] while in solitary confinement at SCI Cresson serving a sentence for robbery. Palakovic’s family brought an Eighth Amendment [LII, text] cruel and unusual punishment claim [complaint] against the prison and prison officials for failure to treat Brandon Palakovic’s documented mental health issues. The Western District of Pennsylvania [official website] granted the State’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, finding that the ‘vulnerability to suicide’ standard applied and that the Palakovics failed to so plead. The Palakovics filed an amended complaint seeking to meet this standard, which was also dismissed. The Third Circuit clarified here that an Eighth Amendment claim need not fit into the ‘vulnerability to suicide’ framework, and that the Palakovics sufficient pled constitutional violations. Moreover, the Third Circuit found that the Palakovics’ amended complaint sufficiently pled a ‘strong likelihood’ of self-harm. The Court urged that the ‘strong likelihood’ requirement does not “demand a heightened showing at the pleading stage by demonstrating — as the District Court seemed to require here — that the plaintiff’s suicide was temporally imminent or somehow clinically inevitable.”

Prisoner issues have been prominent across the world. In January, the UK Ministry of Justice released figures [JURIST report] demonstrating a record number of suicides and other deaths in prisons in England and Wales in 2016. Many experts and politicians have attributed the findings to overcrowding and a cut in funding and staffing. Following a clemency order issued by President Pierre Nkurunziza, Burundi’s government began releasing [JURIST report] scores of prisoner earlier in January. The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the US Department of Justice in January, stating that overcrowding in the state correctional facilities is resulting in violations of the prisoners’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.