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August 1, 2019

"The Singularity and the Familiarity of Solitary Confinement"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Judith Resnik now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

More than 60,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.  This essay explores the ways in which solitary confinement is distinctive and yet also is a familiar feature of U.S. prisons.  To do so, I track the expansion of solitary confinement, analyze the debate in federal courts about its lawfulness, and provide recent data on its widespread use.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court condoned the use of solitary confinement, even as it also licensed courts to inquire about whether a particular version imposed an “atypical and significant hardship” on an individual.  If a prisoner can make such a showing, prison officials must provide some procedural buffers against arbitrary placements.

Empirical understandings of the use of solitary confinement comes through nation-wide surveys undertaken by the Association of State Correctional Administrators and the Liman Center at Yale Law School.  Data from 2018 identified more than 60,000 individuals who were placed in cells for 15 days or more for 22 hours or more.  Almost 4,000 people have been so confined for three years or more.

Solitary confinement is thus all too “typical” a facet of prison life.  Yet its commonplace occurrence ought not insulate solitary confinement from the conclusion that it is an illicitly cruel practice that debilitates individuals.  The complexity of doing so stems not only from the widespread use of solitary confinement, but also from the ways in which U.S. prisons are committed to many practices that are isolating and disabling of individuals.

August 1, 2019 at 12:07 AM | Permalink


They grasp not what they are doing! Many inmates are psychologically crippled or have PTSD upon release back to society from having spent months (and sometimes years) in solitary confinement while incarcerated. One person who should write about the effects of solitary confinement is former U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent (from Galveston, Texas), who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, to end a case that revolved around him sexually harassing and abusing 2 employees in the Federal Courthouse in Galveston, Texas. In May 2009, he was sentenced to serve 33 months in Federal prison. On June 15, 2009, he self-reported to prison at FMC - Devens, in Devens, Massachusetts. The Bureau of Prisons came to believe that they could not properly protect Mr. Kent, so they swapped him off to the Florida Department of Corrections in November 2009. Florida kept Mr. Kent in solitary confinement for his own protection between November 2009 and July 2011, when he was furloughed to attend his daughter's wedding. After that, he completed his sentence on home confinement in November 2011 (apparently skipping living in a Federal halfway house, as other Federal inmates do when leaving prison). Former Judge Kent's years alone in solitary confinement were so unpleasant and difficult that he and his attorney filed a Federal Habeas Corpus Petition about it! At the time of guilty plea and sentencing, Mr. Kent had believed that he would serve his time in either a Camp or a Federal Medical Center. During my own 8 years in Federal prison, I spent about 3 years of time living in THE HOLE, once for more than 6 consecutive months (for helping Mariel Cubans file Habeas Corpus Petitions after the Sixth Circuit's En Banc decision in Rosales- Garcia v. Holland.

Posted by: James Gormley | Aug 1, 2019 9:57:15 AM

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