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June 22, 2015

"Justice Kennedy practically invites a challenge to solitary confinement"

The title of this post is the headline of this Los Angeles Times article which effectively reviews the remarkable (off-point) concurrence penned by Justice Kennedy in last week's SCOTUS ruling in a Davis v. Ayala.  Here are excerpts:

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in an unusual separate opinion in a case, wrote that it may be time for judges to limit the use of long-term solitary confinement in prisons.  His comments accompanying a decision issued Thursday marked a rare instance of a Supreme Court justice virtually inviting a constitutional challenge to a prison policy.

“Years on end of near-total isolation exacts a terrible price,” he wrote.  He cited the writings of Charles Dickens and 19th century Supreme Court opinions that recognized “even for prisoners sentenced to death, solitary confinement bears ‘a further terror and a peculiar mark of infamy.’”

Sentencing judges and the high court have largely ignored the issue, Kennedy said, focusing their attention on questions of guilt or innocence or on the constitutionality of the death penalty.  “In a case that presented the issue, the judiciary may be required,” he wrote, “to determine whether workable alternative systems for long-term confinement exist, and, if so, whether a correctional system should be required to adopt them.”

Amy Fettig, an attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said Kennedy's comments came as a welcome surprise.  “It’s a remarkable statement.  The justice is sending a strong signal he is deeply concerned about the overuse and abuse of solitary confinement,” she said.

States such as Virginia and Texas routinely put death-row inmates in solitary confinement, she said.  “They are automatically placed there.  It has nothing to do with their being violent or their level of dangerousness,” she said.  This month, a federal judge in Virginia is weighing a “cruel and unusual punishment” claim brought by inmates on death row there, she noted.

Kennedy usually joins with the court’s conservatives in cases involving crime and punishment, but he has also voiced concern over prison policies that he deems unduly harsh. These include life terms for juveniles and long mandatory prison terms for nonviolent drug crimes. Four years ago, he spoke for a 5-4 majority that condemned overcrowding in California’s prisons and said it resulted in unconstitutionally cruel conditions....

Kennedy's comments drew a short, but sharp retort from Justice Clarence Thomas. “The accommodations in which Ayala is housed are a far sight more spacious than those in which his victims … now rest.  And, given that his victims were all 31 years or age or under, Ayala will soon have had as much or more time to enjoy those accommodations as his victims had time to enjoy this Earth,” Thomas wrote.

June 22, 2015 at 08:31 AM | Permalink


Another lawyer making decisions without knowing the subject. Several times I cited the study showing solitary confinement is beneficial, done by people trying to measure its harm.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 22, 2015 8:56:25 AM

S.C. George Orwell and Jonathan Swift agree with you: "solitary cofinement is beneficial."

Posted by: onlooker | Jun 22, 2015 9:05:31 AM

Short term solitary might be the best solution of a bad situation but years of solitary is a bad solution to a bad situation.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 22, 2015 10:03:41 AM

S.C. writes of a study that showing that "solitary confinement is beneficial." That study has as much credibility as the one showing that burning heretics was beneficial because it saved their souls.

Posted by: observer | Jun 22, 2015 1:27:32 PM

Criminal lover freaks here, I demand you disclose the fraction of your income that comes from government, directly to you, or indirectly to your employer. You are freaks. Elsewhere, people with my views are in the overwhelming majority, such as among guards who have to control the prisoner. I invite the criminal lover freaks here, volunteer for a shift as a guard, and show us how the proper way to control the out of control prisoner.

Here. This study is peer reviewed. It was carried out by fellow criminal lover freaks, and they got these results instead.

This propaganda will not go away.

Here is a well designed rebuttal that explains all findings, as opposed to the ipse dixits of these pro-criminal rent seekers.



The results of this study were inconsistent with the hypothesis that inmates, with or without mental illness, experience significant psychological decline in AS. Intercept comparisons showed that baseline differences were largely related to mental health status. Segregated inmates with mental illness displayed more symptoms than did inmates without mental illness. Mentally ill inmates in segregation were fairly similar to their comparison groups, but, from the beginning of the study, non-mentally ill segregated inmates had more symptoms than their GP comparison group had. It should be noted, however, that all offenders, regardless of their mental health status, reported symptoms that were significantly elevated over normative community samples. Although the initial values showed group differences, the change function indicated significant change in psychological symptoms over time with early fast improvements slowing to stability. In contrast to the hypotheses, this pattern of change was similar in all five study groups."

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 22, 2015 8:47:51 PM

The income of Justice Kennedy is 100% government dependent. That is the sole explanation why an intelligent person could be so stupid.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 22, 2015 8:53:28 PM

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