[Ppnews] Challenge to "Supermax" Prisons Comes Before the Supreme Court

PPnews at freedomarchives.org PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 4 08:58:10 EDT 2005

ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights Argue Prison Rights Case Before 
U.S. Supreme Court
March 30, 2005

Contact: <mailto:media at aclu.org>media at aclu.org

WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Center for 
Constitutional Rights today presented oral arguments before the Supreme 
Court in Wilkinson v. Austin, a case that will determine the due process 
rights of prisoners at Ohio's notorious "Supermax" prison.

"This case presents the same issue as the Guantanamo cases decided last 
spring," said Staughton Lynd, an ACLU of Ohio volunteer attorney and trial 
counsel in Austin. "What due process is required before indefinite solitary 
confinement can be imposed on any human being?"

In 2002, a federal district judge held that confinement at the Ohio State 
Penitentiary creates an "atypical and significant hardship." Prisoners 
housed in the high maximum-security unit are subject to extreme isolation 
in tiny cells that fail to meet national standards established by the 
American Correctional Association.

When it was first built, officials sent 100 prisoners to the Penitentiary 
without notice or hearing, and before the state had written guidelines for 
the classification of high maximum-security prisoners. Thereafter, the 
vague guidelines adopted in August 1998 did little to prevent continued 
arbitrary and haphazard placement. The Supreme Court agreed to hear Austin 
on the question of whether this lack of procedure amounts to a violation of 
prisoners' right to due process.

"The question is whether prison officials can continue to arbitrarily 
assign prisoners to long-term solitary confinement without basic due 
process protections such as notice of the charges against them and a 
decision explaining the reasons for such placement," said Jules Lobel, a 
Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and counsel for the 
Center for Constitutional Rights. Lobel delivered oral arguments today 
before the Court.

The ACLU has successfully challenged "Supermax" confinement in several 
states including Connecticut, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Ohio 
since 2001. These institutions commonly require 23-hour solitary 
confinement in cells with limited access to rehabilitative programs. The 
stark living conditions have led to mental deterioration in some prisoners 
and have proven dangerous to prisoners with preexisting mental illness. In 
February, the ACLU's National Prison Project and Indiana affiliate filed a 
lawsuit regarding Indiana's Supermax unit because conditions at that 
facility had spurred four suicides and numerous self-mutilations by 
mentally ill prisoners.

More information on the Indiana lawsuit is available at: 

The ACLU's brief in today's case is online at: 

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