Supreme Court Justice Kennedy: Corrections System Is “Broken” and “Solitary Confinement Literally Drives Men Mad”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on Monday used long-term solitary confinement as evidence that the “idea of total incarceration just isn’t working.” Solitary “literally drives men mad,” Kennedy said, noting that more humane alternatives are employed elsewhere in the world.
Kennedy’s comments were made during a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the 2016 Budget Request for the Supreme Court. In response to a question from Arkansas Republican Steve Womack about prison overcrowding, Kennedy made the following statement. (To watch, click on the photo and go to minute 29.)
I think that the corrections system is one of the most overlooked, misunderstood institutions—functions—that we have in our entire government. In law school I never heard about corrections. Lawyers are fascinated with the guilt, innocence, adjudication process. And once the adjudication process is over we have no interest in corrections. Doctors know more about the corrections system—and psychiatrists—than we do. Nobody looks at it. California, my home state, had more than 187,000 people in jail, at a cost of over $30,000 a prisoner. Compared that with the amount they gave to schoolchildren, about $3,500 a year.”
And this idea of total incarceration just isn’t working–and it’s not humane. The federal government build—what do they call them—supermax prisons, with isolation cells. The prisoner we had come before our court a few weeks ago…had been in an isolation cell according to the attorney—I haven’t checked it out—for 25 years. Solitary confinement literally drives men mad.
Kennedy then referred to a character in the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities, who spent 20 years in isolation in the Bastille.
Even Dr. Manette had his workbench and his cobblers tools in Tower 105 North, and even he lost his mind. We simply have to look at this system we have. The Europeans have systems for difficult, recalcitrant prisoners in which they have them in a group of three or four, and they can stay together with three or four, and they have human contact. And it seems to work much better. But we haven’t given nearly enough study, nearly enough thought, nearly enough investigative resources to looking at our corrections system. In many respects, I think it’s broken.
Kennedy’s most famous tretise on the humane treatment of prisoners came in his majority opinion in the 2011 Brown v Plata case, where he wrote: “Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons. Respect for that dignity animates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.” The Eighth Amendment determines whether a punishment is cruel and unusual based on “evolving standards of decency.” Now it seems that those standards may be evolving in the view of a key voter on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • ThinkProgress published an article about one unexpected reason why Republican support for prison reform is increasing. “Conservatives are increasingly joining the fight to end solitary confinement on the basis that […]
The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • A US District Judge has ruled in favor of several plaintiffs named in an ongoing class action lawsuit against the use of solitary confinement in California prisons. Incarcerated individuals […]
The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • Fusion published a five-minute video by Molly Crabapple entitled, “Why solitary confinement is a form of modern-day torture.” • The Guardian published an article about Tony Lester, who had a diagnosis […]
A long-awaited audit of the use of solitary and other forms of isolated confinement in the federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) recommends minor reforms while affirming the overall legitimacy and efficacy of a system that holds more than 10,000 people in extreme isolation. At 242 pages in length, the Federal Bureau of Prisons: Special Housing Unit Review […]
The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • Mic published an article entitled, “The Horrifying Truth of Life in Solitary Confinement From People Who Lived It.” • According to Mother Jones, those incarcerated at Willacy County Correctional Center […]
The following account is by Nicole Natschke, who is currently held in the segregation unit at Illinois’s Logan Correctional Facility, about three hours south of Chicago. Logan was repurposed from a men’s prison to imprison women from the shuttered Dwight and Lincoln Correctional Centers. The prison, which has a rated capacity of 1,106, currently holds 1,950 […]
The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • The New York Times magazine published an article entitled The Shame of Solitary Confinement, which focuses on what’s happening in one Southern state. “Solitary — in theory, a punishment for […]
Ashley Smith was just 19 when she died in her solitary confinement cell at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario, in October 2007. As she had many times before, Smith tied a ligature around her neck and tightened it. For twenty long minutes, a crowd of prison guards stood watch from outside […]
What does solitary confinement have to do with reproductive justice? Quite a lot, says a new report about reproductive health care in New York’s women’s prisons. The Correctional Association of New York, a criminal justice policy and advocacy organization, released Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons. […]
The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • Last year, the Ohio Department of Youth Services decreased its use of segregation by two-thirds, according to a report released by the state’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee. The changes […]
Jacob Barrett is an Oregon state prisoner who was transferred to Florida and has been held for years in “Close Management,” or solitary confinement, most recently at Florida State Prison in Raiford. On February 1, Barrett began a hunger strike not only against the conditions he himself has endured, but also against the rampant abuses […]