Pennsylvania prisoners reached a settlement with the state Department of Corrections on Monday, ending solitary confinement and other isolationist policies for inmates sentenced to death.
The settlement was a response to a January 2018 suit filed by five inmates and their attorneys. The attorneys worked with the American Civil Liberties Union and Abolitionist Law Center to establish that the department’s policies related to solitary confinement violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The 2018 suit alleged that inmates on death row were held in 8-by-12 foot cells and were permitted out of these cells for only two hours each week to exercise alone. During the weekend inmates spent as many as 70 hours without leaving their cells, where lights remained on 24 hours each day.
Monday’s settlement stipulates that prisoners sentenced to death in the state will now be provided with “all the rights and privileges afforded to those prisoners housed on standard general population units.” The department will have 180 days to implement the agreement.
Inmates sentenced to death will still be housed in specific prisons but will now have rights and privileges, including: a minimum of 42.5 hours of out-of-cell activity every week; daily phone usage for at least 15 minutes; protection from strip-searches, shackling and other restraints (with an exception for temporary, emergent situations); contact visits with family, lawyers and religious advisors; and resocialization assistance for those psychologically harmed by long periods of solitary confinement.
There are currently 136 death row inmates in Pennsylvania, making the state the fifth largest row in the country.