34 Current and Former Prosecutors, Judges, and Justice Department Officials Urge Eighth Circuit to Review Solitary Confinement Practices
Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection Argues Overuse of Solitary Confinement Harms Trust in Justice System, Undermines Rehabilitation, and Threatens International Cooperation
Nearly three dozen current and former prosecutors, former judges, and former U.S. Department of Justice officials signed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief filed Wednesday in Hamner v. Burls, a case in the U.S Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concerning the placement of a mentally ill prisoner in solitary confinement for 203 days after he reported another inmate’s planned attack on a correctional officer. The brief was authored by Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP).
Mr. Hamner filed a lawsuit alleging violations of his constitutional rights based on his prolonged solitary confinement. The district court dismissed Mr. Hamner’s claims and the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal on appeal. Without deciding whether Mr. Hamner’s constitutional rights had been violated, the Eighth Circuit held that the defendants had qualified immunity from suit because the constitutional rights Mr. Hamner claimed were not “clearly established” by the courts—a necessary prerequisite for Mr. Hamner to obtain damages in this case.
Mr. Hamner now seeks rehearing of the Eighth Circuit’s decision. The amicus brief filed on Wednesday supports Mr. Hamner’s request, arguing that the court should answer the constitutional questions that Mr. Hamner’s case raises in order to provide much needed guidance about the use of solitary confinement in state and federal prisons. The brief further explains why the issues raised by solitary confinement are of particular importance to prosecutors, judges, and Justice Department officials: the overuse of solitary confinement erodes public trust in the criminal justice system, thereby impeding efforts to protect public safety; it undermines the criminal justice system’s rehabilitative goals; and it is detrimental to efforts to obtain extradition from foreign nations.
“Mr. Hamner’s case highlights many of the concerns prosecutors have with solitary confinement. He appears to have been subjected to segregation because he provided assistance in preventing a crime—a serious disincentive for those who would otherwise want to help prevent and prosecute crime in the future,” said Mary McCord, Legal Director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. “And he was placed in solitary confinement despite known serious mental health issues, which were made worse by his separation from meaningful stimulation and human contact. It is time that the courts address the grave concerns raised by the continued use of prolonged solitary confinement in jails and prisons across the country.”
The brief can be found here.
About the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP)
ICAP uses the power of the courts to defend American constitutional rights and values. Based at Georgetown Law Center, ICAP draws on expert litigators, savvy litigation strategy, and the constitutional scholarship of Georgetown to vindicate individuals’ rights and to protect America’s constitutional way of life. More information about ICAP can be found at law.georgetown.edu/icap.