The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to solitary confinement, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor sharply criticized prisons limiting outside exercise time.
“It should be clear by now that our Constitution does not permit such a total deprivation in the absence of a particularly compelling interest,” Sotomayor wrote in her opinion, Courthouse News Service reported Oct. 9.
The case consolidated circuit court appeals revolving around Jonathon Apodaca, Joshua Vigil and Donnie Lowe’s treatment within solitary during their incarceration at Colorado State Penitentiary.
Sotomayor voted to reject the challenge but said the lawsuit failed to focus on security and outside exercise.
The court unanimously rejected the prisoners’ petition for certiorari, which argued for 8th Amendment relief against solitary confinement based on cruel and unusual punishment.
Lowe spent 11 years in solitary confinement for a second-degree burglary and introduction of contraband. He died shortly after he was released from prison.
“While we do not know what caused his death in May 2018, we do know that solitary confinement imprints on those that it clutches a wide range of psychological scars,” Sotomayor wrote.
Lowe’s death and the litigation spurred a change in solitary policy and procedures in the Colorado State Penitentiary.
Colorado has become a model for the entire country by increasing outdoor time for solitary inmates to an average of 31-45 hours per week, said Mark Fairbanks, a spokesperson for Colorado’s Department of Corrections.
“We have departments coming in all across the country, all across the world, to see what we’re doing in our department,” said Fairbanks.
Sotomayor supplied numerous pages of concern that illustrated the high court itself has recognized that the deprivations of a prisoners’ outdoor time is considered “perversion.”
“Courts and corrections officers must … remain alert to the clear constitutional problems caused by keeping prisoners like Apodaca, Vigil and Lowe in ‘near-total isolation’ from the loving world, in what comes perilously close to a penal time bomb,” she wrote.