ACLU sues Pennsylvania for use of solitary confinement on death row

Is the excessive use of solitary confinement in American prisons "torture"? The ACLU thinks so.

The UN considers the excessive use of solitary confinement in US prisons to be legally torture. About 80,000 people are in solitary confinement in American prisons on any given day. Some are there for years at a time. In a 2015 video, I outlined why solitary confinement is not only torture, but also counterproductive for those prisoners that are expected to be reintegrated back into society:

How can we even stand on a world stage and declare the importance of human rights and dignity when our criminal justice system does exactly the opposite?"

But there is good news: On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania, alleging that its practice of keeping its 156 death row inmates under solitary confinement constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment".

THE 156 DEATH row inmates in Pennsylvania state prisons go to sleep every night the same way they wake up: in an 8-by-12 foot cell illuminated by artificial light around the clock. On weekdays, they are allowed out of their cells for a maximum of two hours to exercise in a small, enclosed space. They leave their cells thrice a week to take showers and are occasionally allowed to go to the law library. Every once in a while, a death-sentenced prisoner gets a visit with clergy or a family member – without being able to touch them. On weekends, they cannot leave their cells at all. For most of their lives, they sit alone in a suffocating cage the size of a parking space.

Some prisoners end up staying as long as 25 years under solitary confinement. This is what a cell at San Quentin State Prison’s death row center looks like: What do you think? Does this constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" as the ACLU claims?

To read more on the ACLU's efforts to sue Pennsylvania, click here

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