On Litigating Constitutional Challenges to the Federal Supermax: Improving Conditions and Shining a Light
62 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2018
Date Written: March 26, 2018
Prisons and jails are the most invisible part of the American criminal justice system. In this hidden world of punishment, no prison is more shrouded in secrecy than the federal Bureau of Prisons’ only “supermax” prison — the U.S. Penitentiary-Administrative Maximum known as ADX. Located in a remote area of Colorado, ADX has been described by one journalist as “a black site on American soil.” The men at ADX are held in solitary confinement, locked in cells the size of a parking space for twenty-three hours a day, with little or no contact with other people. Some of them have been there for decades.
This Article describes the work of the men at ADX and their lawyers, including the student attorneys at the University of Denver’s Civil Rights Clinic, who have dedicated themselves to bringing the conditions at ADX into compliance with the Constitution, human rights principles, and basic human dignity. While the federal courts have found constitutional violations in some of the ADX cases but not in others, the civil rights litigation undertaken by these lawyers and clients has been instrumental in shining a light into this darkest of places.
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