Solitary confinement practices in Pennsylvania prisons is no longer permitted after a federal appeal. Once an inmate’s sentence changes from the death penalty to something different, solitary confinement will no longer be forced upon them, WJAC TV reports.
Three judges on the panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled that no more inmates will face solitary confinement, who had their sentence changed from death penalty to something else. The panel of judges made their decision based on the fact that solitary confinement causes harmful psychological effects to people.
Rather than keep them in solitary confinement, the prisons will be required to reestablish the inmates to the general population of the prison, as deemed safe.
According to Delaware 105.9, two men from Philadelphia filed lawsuits, who felt that it was unjustifiable to keep them in solitary confinement for several years after their death-row sentences were changed.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reveals that last September, a federal judge ordered a Pennsylvania prison to release Arthur Johnson from solitary confinement; he had been awaiting death-row for 36 years.
Although it was argued that Johnson was an escape risk, the judge revealed that Johnson’s rights were violated as per the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment by keeping him in solitary confinement for all those years.
“The court has no crystal ball. It may well be that Johnson will endeavor to escape again. But Mr. Johnson is 64 years old and he will be subject to three decades of improvements in institutional security over the general population. The Department [of Corrections] has at its disposal a broad array of investigative and penological techniques to dissuade even the most entrenched escape artist. Surely, there are less restrictive means to monitor Mr. Johnson than solitary confinement.”
At a hearing last summer, Johnson told the courts that he suffers from anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, loss of short-term memory, anger, obsessive behavior, loss of concentration, and despair due to multiple decades of solitary confinement.
Craig Haney, a University of California psychology professor, has researched what solitary confinement does to people. He revealed that Johnson has experienced what he called “social death” while being in solitary confinement. Haney mentioned that Johnson “has struggled to maintain his sanity.”
The judge was very satisfied with his decision, and was happy that Johnson will finally see an end to his solitary confinement.
“It is difficult to conjure up a more compelling case for reintegration to the general prison population. After 36 years of isolation, Mr. Johnson deserves the opportunity to shake hands with someone other than his attorneys.”
Johnson was on death-row for the 1970’s murder of a man, which occurred during a street fight in Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Pennsylvania’s solitary confinement practice has been the center of attention. In 2013, Justice News revealed that the state’s use of solitary confinement violates the prisoner’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Constitution.
The investigation involved Cambria County’s State Corrections Institution, which was under suspicion of violating rights of inmates with serious mental illnesses by sending them to solitary confinement.
The findings were just as they suspected. The corrections institution severely misused solitary confinement, leading to several problematic issues among many inmates. Suicide, clinical depression, self-mutilation, psychosis, and mental decompensation were among the many issues among those with severe mental illnesses, who were subjected to solitary confinement.
The institution’s investigation eventually led to its closing. David J. Hickson, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, expressed relief in the results of the investigation, with hopes that the prisoners with mental illnesses in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will receive proper and humane treatment.
“The findings in this case are disturbing and expose a serious disregard for the health and safety of prisoners with serious mental illness. We are dedicated to ensuring that prisoners throughout the Commonwealth are treated humanely and receive the appropriate mental health treatment in an effort to enhance their successful reintegration into the community upon release.”
How do you feel about the judge’s decision to discontinue solitary confinement for those prisoners, whose sentence has changed from death-row to something of lesser consequence?
[Featured Image by Bebeto Matthews/AP Images]