MEDIA RELEASE: Lawsuit seeks end to 36 years of solitary confinement

Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson requests court order to immediately end his isolation

May 13, 2016: Lawyers for Arthur Johnson, a 63-year-old man in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) at State Correctional Institution Frackville, filed a lawsuit today challenging his long-term solitary confinement. Mr. Johnson has been held in isolation since 1979. He is suing for violations of his 8th Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment and his rights to procedural and substantive due process. The case was filed in the federal court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and seeks a preliminary injunction in the form of a court order mandating an immediate end to his long-term solitary confinement.

Conditions of solitary confinement in the DOC involve 23-24 hour lockdown in a small cell. For five hours per week Mr. Johnson is permitted to enter an outdoor cage slightly larger than his cell. He is not permitted contact visits.

The Complaint alleges that “confinement in small cells for approximately 23 hours a day for more than three decades has harmed his mental and physical health, resulting in permanent damage,” including “increasing feelings of anxiety, frustration, loneliness, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and depression.” As a result, Mr. Johnson finds “it challenging . . . to perform basic tasks such as concentrating, sleeping, exercising, getting out of bed, reading, and writing.”

Mr. Johnson also submitted an expert report with his lawsuit from psychologist Dr. Craig Haney, one of the leading psychologists and scholars of the harms of solitary confinement. Dr. Haney’s report states that Mr. Johnson has been subjected to a “social death” due to his having “been kept in solitary confinement for an extraordinary amount of time—an amount that greatly exceed any of the limits recommended or countenanced by any legal, mental health, or human rights organization of which I am aware.”

Mr. Johnson is represented by the Abolitionist Law Center and Jones Day law firm.

Read case filings and details here.