Dignity and the Eighth Amendment: A New Approach to Challenging Solitary Confinement
American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, Issue Brief, September 2015
20 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2015
Date Written: September 11, 2015
The use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails has come under increasing scrutiny. Over the past few months, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy all but invited constitutional challenges to the use of solitary confinement, while President Obama asked, “Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day for months, sometime for years at a time?” Even some of the most notorious prisons and jails, including California’s Pelican Bay State Prison and New York’s Rikers Island, are reforming their use of solitary confinement because of successful litigation and public outcry. Rovner suggests that in light of these developments and “the Supreme Court’s increasing reliance on human dignity as a substantive value underlying and animating constitutional rights,” there is a strong case to make that long-term solitary confinement violates the constitutional right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.
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