End Long-Term Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons


Target: John G. Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Goal: Outlaw long term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

The American prison system purports to use solitary confinement as a method to ensure the safety of inmates and of corrections officers. Unfortunately, solitary confinement is more often used as a punitive measure to restrict and control inmate communication.

In a prison such as Pelican Bay Penitentiary in California, inmates can be moved to the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU) simply for acting as “jailhouse lawyers” or “jailhouse doctors” for their fellow inmates. The staff at Pelican Bay maintain that the SHU is used to discourage inmates from affiliating with prison gangs. However, an inmate can be put in in the SHU for simply being unable to identify a gang member who assaulted them.

Pelican Bay’s SHU, like many isolation units in the U.S. prison system, is windowless, so inmates receive no sunlight. More than 500 inmates in U.S. penitentiaries have been held in isolation units for over a decade. Many inmates held in isolation units have no access to educational, rehabilitative, or psychological treatment programs. Through the use of long-term solitary confinement, the U.S. prison system is quite literally sentencing people to cruel and unusual punishment, according to the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights. Prolonged solitary confinement, according to prison psychologist Craig Haney, causes inmates to “lose all basic sense of who and what they are”. Inmates who are placed in long term solitary confinement due to behavior stemming from psychological disorders do not receive proper treatment. Inmates who develop psychological disorders as a result of long-term solitary confinement do not have access to proper treatment.

The ACLU and inmates at Pelican Bay Penitentiary have already filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections in order to end prolonged solitary confinement. Now we must do our part and urge the Supreme Court to recognize long-term solitary confinement as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.


Dear Chief Justice John G. Roberts, U.S Supreme Court,

You’ve no doubt heard about the problems regarding mass incarceration in the United States. One of the most pressing problems U.S. prisons face today is the existence of prolonged solitary confinement. The U.S. Constitution states that no U.S. citizen should be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment; sadly, this is exactly what inmates sentenced to prolonged solitary confinement experience. Although many prisons claim that solitary confinement is the only method available to discourage and disintegrate prison gangs, the truth is that many prisons use solitary confinement as a method of coercion, restriction, and punishment. For example, an inmate who is attacked by a gang member he doesn’t know can be sent to solitary confinement for refusing to name his attacker. Simply being subject to prison violence can put inmates in solitary confinement for supposed gang affiliation. The California DOC would have you believe that the inmates housed in their isolation unit are “the worst of the worst”. To be sure, many inmates are guilty of heinous, brutal crimes. How, though, can one possibly rehabilitate someone classified as “the worst of the worst” by denying them sunlight, fresh air, and human contact. Certainly, inmates and officers need to be kept safe. However, in Pelican Bay State Penitentiary, over 5oo inmates have  been in solitary confinement for over a decade. It is hard to see how this facilitates rehabilitation. Inmates held in prolonged solitary confinement suffer from psychoses, sleep deprivation, depression, and PTSD. Psychological harm falls under the umbrella of “cruel and unusual punishment”. Push to end the punitive use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, and set limits on the amount of time prisons can hold inmates in isolation units.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: 1454216288_525f062f8d_o via Google Image

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