Supreme Court’s Refusal to Hear Prolonged Solitary Confinement Case Criticized

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By Kapish Kalita 

WASHINGTON, DC – “The U.S. Supreme Court’s three liberal justices on Monday sharply objected to the court’s refusal to hear an appeal of a lower court decision by a former Illinois inmate who was kept in solitary confinement in a state prison and virtually deprived of any exercise for about three years,” according to the Felony Murder Elimination Project(FMEP),

The FMEP also noted “none of the six conservative justices joined with the liberal justices” in former inmate Micheal Johnson’s “appeal of a lower court’s ruling rejecting his 2016 civil rights lawsuit accusing prison officials of violating the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment bar on cruel and unusual punishment.”

According to the FMEP, Johnson was originally “incarcerated after being convicted of home invasion and subsequently was convicted while in prison of two instances of aggravated battery against a peace officer.”

Justice Jackson in her eight-page dissent about the case noted Johnson was labeled “‘seriously mentally ill’ based on his bipolar disorder, severe depression and other diagnosed conditions.”

Despite this, Johnson, according to Jackson’s dissent, was held in “‘unusually severe’” conditions, “spen(ding) nearly every hour of his existence in a windowless, perpetually lit cell;” that was  “poorly ventilated, resulting in unbearable heat and noxious odors,” and “unsanitary, often caked with human waste.”

The dissent also noted that Johnson was forced to buy cleaning supplies from the commissary to clean his cell.

In addition to this, according to Jackson’s dissent, “prison officials completely deprived Johnson of exercise,” while Johnson was kept in solitary confinement. The dissent noted that while state prisoners at the Pontiac (where Johnson was held), “even when in solitary confinement” had at least “eight hours per week” of recreation time, Johnson lacked almost any of this.

Instead, according to the dissent, “Johnson was repeatedly placed under so-called “yard restrictions” as punishment for various infractions, most of them minor, result(ing) in the denial of any access to recreation outside his cell.”

These “yard restriction(s) (were) imposed for a period of between 30 and 90 days…with the restrictions” being “stacked such that, in total, Johnson received over three years’ worth of yard restrictions.”

Because of this, according to Jackon’s dissent, Johnson was forced into the “cramped confines of (his) cell… prevent(ing)  him from exercising…stretch(ing) his limbs or breath(ing)  fresh air,” for three years.

The dissent noted how “the consequences of such a prolonged period of exercise deprivation were predictably severe,” with Johnson, “suffer(ing) from Hallucinations…excoriat(ing) his own flesh, urina(ting)  and defecat(ing) on himself, and smear(ing) feces all over his body and cell.”

Jackson’s dissent also noted how “Johnson became suicidal and sometimes engaged in misconduct with the hope that prison guards would beat him to death.”

Due to his mental deterioration, according to FMEP, Johnson “was eventually transferred to a specialized mental health treatment unit.”

Daniel Greenfield, an attorney with the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, said in a statement, that while he was “grateful that Justices Jackson, Sotomayor and Kagan recognized the panel majority’s ‘indisputable legal error,’” it was still, “sadden(ing) to live in an era where such immense suffering is acceptable to any federal judge, let alone the majority of a circuit panel.”

Greenfield added that “three years of 24/7 solitary confinement unrelieved by any opportunity for exercise would have appalled the Founders,” and “it should be no less shocking to us today.”

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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