Lawsuit seeks to end ‘unconstitutional’ solitary confinement in Pa. prisons

Penn Live Patriot-News, 03/04/24:A class action lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Monday challenges solitary confinement practices in prisons across the state saying they violate prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment, among other rights.

The suit, filed on behalf of six inmates, seeks to end prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement and prohibit the punishment for anyone with a mental health diagnosis. The lawsuit expands upon one filed in October that focused only on the practices in a specially designated unit at the State Correctional Institution Fayette.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), and Dechert LLP. A news release issued Monday said the lawsuit was the ‘first of its kind.’

“This is a historic filing that could impact thousands of Pennsylvanians,” aid Saleem Holbrook, Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “For the first time, we are challenging solitary confinement on constitutional grounds.”

Solitary confinement is when prison officials severely restrict a person’s environmental, social and occupational stimulation. Individuals placed in solitary confinement in Pennsylvania prisons spend 21 to 24 hours a day confined to their cells and are denied access to positive stimulation—sometimes for years.

Khalil Hammond, 35, survived solitary confinement for 12 years, but said the practice can drive people to suicide.

If you didn’t have mental health issues before going in, you do once you’re in the hole,” Hammond said.

‘Imagine being locked in a cage for years and years without ever knowing when you’ll get out,” Hammond said. “People are screaming at the walls, hearing voices and having hallucinations, trying to take their own lives.’

Instead of helping, Hammond said prison staff tell the people in solitary to kill themselves.”

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