Is Solitary Confinement Unconstitutional?

There are approximately 80,000 inmates in solitary confinement in the United States. The United States Supreme Court seems to be poised to take up the question of whether prolonged solitary confinement is unconstitutional because it violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

There seems to be broad judicial agreement that prolonged solitary confinement without access to at least some outside exercise is cruel and unusual. In fact, Justice Kennedy wrote in a concurring opinion in 2015 that “years on end of near total isolation exact a terrible price” with common

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side effects including “anxiety, panic, withdrawal, hallucinations, self-mutilation, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

The bad effects of solitary confinement are well known to prison officials. That is why they use solitary confinement as a threat and as punishment.

It seems ironic that probably a majority of the Justices on the United States Supreme Court consider prolonged solitary confinement to be cruel and unusual, while United States Senators are still arguing during the confirmation hearing of Gina Haspel for CIA Director whether physically torturing prisoners in solitary confinement is an acceptable means of conducting an interrogation.