This class-action lawsuit (co-counseled by ALC; ACLU; ACLU PA; Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feiberg & Lin LLP; and Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP) was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over its unconstitutional practice of holding people sentenced to death in mandatory, permanent solitary confinement in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
This treatment — 22-24 hours a day inside a cell about 8 feet by 12 feet — had been automatically and permanently imposed on all incarcerated people sentenced to death in PA. It was not triggered by violations of prison rules or a need for protective custody, and there was no procedure for prisoners to challenge their placement in solitary. Of the 156 people sentenced to death in Pennsylvania at the time the case was filed, nearly 80 percent had spent more than a decade in this form of solitary confinement.
On November 18, 2019, the plaintiffs’ counsel announced a settlement with the Department of Corrections to end the practice. On April 9, 2020, that settlement was approved by a federal court.
The department will still house people who are sentenced to death in specific prisons but agreed to reforms to offer the rights and privileges afforded to people in other state facilities, including:
- At least 42.5 hours out-of-cell activity every week, including yard and outdoor time, law library time, congregate meal time, treatment or counseling meetings, congregate religious worship, work assignment, and phased in contact visitation;
- Permission to use the phone on a daily basis for at least 15 minutes per usage;
- Incarcerated people will not be subjected to strip-searches, shackling, or other restraints, unless security measures are required in response to a temporary, emergent situation;
- Contact visits with family, lawyers and religious advisors; and
- Resocialization assistance for individuals psychologically damaged by long periods in solitary confinement to help them in the transition to living in a general population setting, as well as physical and mental health baseline evaluations due to years of neglect.