Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Toward a More Constitutional Approach to Solitary Confinement

The Case for Reform

Toward a More Constitutional Approach to Solitary Confinement

Richmond, Cedric. “Toward a More Constitutional Approach to Solitary Confinement: The Case for Reform.” Harvard Journal on Legislation 52(1), p. 1 (2015).

“The past forty years have brought significant growth in the use of segregation in penal settings. Prison officials maintain that segregation is an effective tool to manage dangerous or vulnerable prisoners, but research has demonstrated that it is being utilized more and more as a commonplace disciplinary tool, deployed and withdrawn at the discretion of prison and jail management. Researchers have demonstrated that there are very real human and fiscal costs related to the segregation of prisoners in isolated settings. The Supreme Court has yet to conclude that the use of solitary confinement for prolonged periods is unconstitutional, but evidence suggests that under certain conditions prisoners may experience such extreme anguish and injury so as to pose a serious inquiry as to whether cruel and unusual punishment has taken place. Policymakers need to act to promote more uniform standards for solitary confinement that more closely comply with the U.S. Constitution. Congress will have a role in promoting reforms to the use of segregation practices in the federal prison system, administered by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Prisons. A comprehensive, top down approach is likely unworkable due to federalism implications, but the federal government is uniquely positioned to work with stakeholders in the states to reform practices in local prison systems.”

Click here to read this policy essay by Congressman Cedric L. Richmond, who represents Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Keywords: mental health, mental illness, eighth amendment, federal, national standards