68 Current and Former Prosecutors and Justice Department Officials Urge Fifth Circuit to Allow Lawsuit Challenging Texas Man’s 26-Year Stay in Solitary Confinement to Proceed
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
September 29, 2020 — Sixty-eight current and former prosecutors and former U.S. Department of Justice officials signed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief filed Monday in Hope v. Harris, urging the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to allow a case to proceed that was brought by a prisoner challenging his continued solitary confinement, where he was spent the past 26 years. The brief was authored by Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP).
Mr. Hope was originally placed in solitary confinement following an escape from prison in 1994. According to Mr. Hope, the “escape risk” designator was removed from his file in 2005, but in the remaining 15 years he has never been moved to the general prison population. Mr. Hope alleges that as a result of his placement in solitary confinement—where he is only let out of his cell for one to two hours a day—he has suffered physical and mental deterioration, including hallucinations and thoughts of suicide. The district court dismissed Mr. Hope’s claims, holding that he had failed to establish that he had been denied a constitutional right. Mr. Hope has appealed the dismissal to the Fifth Circuit.
The amicus brief filed on Monday supports Mr. Hope’s request to reverse the district court’s dismissal, arguing that the court should consider evidence of the extensive harms caused by the overuse of solitary confinement across the country, which has received increased public and judicial scrutiny over the last decade. The brief further explains why the issues raised by solitary confinement are of particular importance to prosecutors 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. Hope’s case is remarkable because of the length of time he has spent in solitary confinement, and underscores how damaging and counterproductive these extended placements can be,” said Mary McCord, Legal Director at ICAP and a former federal prosecutor. “A growing body of research shows that long periods of time in solitary confinement can cause immense physical and mental harm to prisoners, while failing to improve prison safety and undermining confidence in the justice system. 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 signatories hail from 33 different states, include 27 current sitting elected prosecutors, and include former top Department of Justice officials across the political spectrum, from former Attorney General Michael Mukasey to former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman. The brief and list of signatories 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.