Is Prolonged Solitary Confinement a ‘Cruel & Unusual’ Punishment?
In the state of Texas, one man has been behind bars, in a 6 x 9' cell, alone, for 27 years.
According to the New York Times via Yahoo News, 53-year-old Dennis Hope has spent 27 years in solitary confinement in a 6 x 9' Texas jail cell.
I don't know about you, but I feel that being social is part of human nature. I'm not making any judgment as to Hope's guilt or innocence. This is a question of whether or not prolonged solitary confinement can be considered cruel and unusual punishment which is a protection offered to United States citizens via the 8th Amendment as outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment states: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
That begs the question that if humans are social beings, could it be argued that prolonged amounts of time in solitary confinement are detrimental to the health of prisoners?
Let's take a look at Dennis Hope's case in Texas. His only human contact is with prison guards who strip search and cuff him before taking him to exercise alone. Hope was incarcerated in 1990 for a series of armed robberies. In 1994, he was a prison escapee and on the run for around two months. When he was returned to jail to continue serving his 80-year sentence, he was placed in solitary confinement and has been there ever since. To be fair, Hope did steal a car at knifepoint from an elderly man and robbed four grocery stores when he escaped. He has only received one personal phone call in the ensuing years and that was when his mother died in 2013. Hope says he suffers from depression and paranoia and is worried that he's losing his mind.
The New York Times via Yahoo News reports that more than 500 prisoners in Texas have served 10 plus years in near isolation. 138 prisoners have done the same for over 20 years.
In January 2022, Hope requested that the Supreme Court review whether or not his prison conditions were indeed a cruel and unusual punishment. Last week he learned that the Supreme Court waived their right to respond and review his case Hope v. Harris, No. 21-1065. As you can imagine, this case has been battled back and forth in appeals court.
I'd be interested to hear what you think of this situation. Is prolonged solitary confinement cruel and unusual punishment?
[New York Times via Yahoo! News]