WHEN DOES PRISON WITH SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AMOUNT TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT?

The day after Thanksgiving your Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyer received a call about prison conditions at the Coleman Federal Correctional Institution in Florida. The call came from a lady who believed her son was singled out for cruel and unusual punishment at the jail.

Here’s the gist of her questions to me:

Is solitary confinement cruel and unusual punishment in Florida Federal prisons?
Van Gogh, Prisoners, 1890

A few months ago another inmate threw a knife into my son’s cell. Since then my son has been punished for the knife by placement in the hole (solitary confinement), with only one phone call to me per month and many other losses of what little freedom he had….

My son did not co-operate in telling who threw the knife because he legitimately fears reprisals from inmates. Yet after all this time he has not been charged with any offenses from the knife incident. What can I do to get better conditions for my son?

The prison system of America holds a higher portion of the population than any prison system in the world. The over-crowded conditions in many American jails such as the Pinellas County Jail in Tampa Bay, Florida should be improved. For the most part the Bureau of Prisons has been held by Federal Judges to a much higher standard of care than most American state and local prisons.

Clearly all jails are allowed to punish and segregate prisoners who violate the law or violate prison rules by being found in possession or close proximity of weapons, drugs or other contraband. Even for rules violations long term solitary confinement should be deemed cruel and unusual punishment, yet our Government confines up to 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement.
So what can be done for your son?
First, without being accusatory, simply contact the jail in writing with a factual statement of the circumstances your son is facing including the length of time spent in solitary confinement with details of any other deprivations. This puts the prison on notice that someone outside the system is alert, watchful and that your son is not forgotten. 
Then you should contact the psychologists, doctors and clergy (or faith-based community organization members) who are daily allowed into the jail making direct contact with inmates with the facts of the conditions your son is facing and request that they meet with your son as soon as they can. 
Your objective is to have as many eyewitnesses as possible to view his conditions, note his circumstances and if necessary to complain about his conditions. Once you have their statements in writing you can go to the Bureau of Prisons with a complaint or if the Bureau of Prisons fails to take action to file a Federal Habeas Corpus Petition to get him better conditions or free him.
Especially during this Holiday Season let him know he’s not forgotten and that you’re doing your best to help him. And with help from Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorneys we’ll be doing our best to help other prisoners survive the most difficult time of their lives.


IS FLORIDA SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AS USED IN PINELLAS & TAMPA BAY JAILS CRUEL & UNUSUAL PUNSISHMENT?

Up to 20,000 prisoners are held for long periods of time in solitary confinement each year in fifty-seven American supermax prisons and by one count up to 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement at any given time in the American prison system, which for a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney is a stunning number. 
Tampa Bay Florida does not have any supermax prisons but we do have plenty of prisoners in the Pinellas County Jail and in Hillsborough County Jails who are subjected to solitary confinement for violations of arbitrary prison requirments, rules and regulations within our local prisons with little judicial oversight. For example, I represented a client whose meager yet unmet vegan food requirements led to ever greater minor jailhouse harassment, then to minor punishments and finally penalties that included time spent in solitary confinement even as my client lost weight at an alarming rate.  
Terrible Jail conditions have been shown to create higher future crime rates even at our local prisons in Tampa Bay as worse the brutal conditions are in jails  the more likely it is that prisoners will not reform once released. 
Keeping all this in mind are our local prisons violating the 8th amendment standards for cruel and unusual punishment by subjecting prisoners to solitary confinement for minor transgressions of fluctuating prison rules? A recent  Law Journal article notes that there have been many psychological studies showing what to a normal person would seem obvious, that solitary confinement is extremely harmful to prisoners:
Numerous psychological studies of prolonged solitary confinement detail the serious psychological harm to prisoners of such isolation. As one recent comprehensive survey of the psychiatric research on solitary confinement concludes, Solitary confinement can have serious psychological, psychiatric, and sometime physiological effects on many prison inmates. A long list of possible symptoms from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and outright insanity…

Charles Dickens noted that solitary confinement is torture, Tampa Bay & Pinellas Jails should stop torturing prisoners
Maclise, Charles Dickens, 1839

The article goes on to note that this isn’t new science, we’ve known it for well over a hundred years as when Charles Dickens visited the Cherry Hill prison in 1842 and noted: I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers . . . there is a depth of terrible endurance in it which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow-creature. I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.

Your favorite Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyer  believes it’s time to brand solitary confinement once and for all as what it clearly is – cruel and unusual punishment which violates the very qualities that makes us American.