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Supreme Court Takes the “Radical” Stance That Prisoners Are Human Beings

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissenting opinion to last week’s Brown v. Plata decision, called the ruling “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history.”  Since Scalia is the ultimate legal literalist, we presumably ought to take his written opinions literally. So what is this decision that the Court’s most conservative justice finds […]

Prisoner Sent to Solitary for Reporting Rape Takes Her Case to the Supreme Court

Back in May, we wrote about the case of a woman prisoner named Michelle Ortiz, who was first chastised and then shackled and sent to solitary confinement as punishment for reporting her molestation and subsequent rape by a male guard. As the Columbus Dispatch reported: When Ortiz reported the first assault to prison official Paula […]

John Thompson Takes a Louisiana Injustice from Death Row to the Supreme Court

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The model electric chair sitting on the desk of New Orleans prosecutor JimWilliams was like a piece of stranger-than-fiction Louisiana Gothic. But for John Thompson, it was all too real. “Seated” in the electric chair were photographs of five African American men that the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office had proudly sent to death row. […]

Supreme Court Decision Limits Juvenile Life Without Parole (Within Limits)

CHILDREN IN LOCKDOWN The U.S. Supreme Court today barred a practice that is already considered unconscionable in the rest of the world. In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole for any crime short of murder violates the Constitution’s 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In […]

Woman Prisoner Sent to Solitary for Reporting Rape by Guard

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Michelle Ortiz was serving one year at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, a state prison in Marysville, when she was molested by a male guard. A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch describes what happened next:  When Ortiz reported the first assault to prison official Paula Jordan, the official told the inmate that the male guard […]

Punishment for Possessing One Joint = Jail, Solitary Confinement, and Deportation

Continuing her incisive reporting on the travesty of immigrant detention in the United States, the New York Times‘s Nina Bernstein  yesterday documented the three-year nightmare of a legal immigrant from Haiti. Bernstein describes what happened to the young man after he was convicted of a non-criminal drug offense, considered so minor in the state of New York that it carries a fine smaller than some parking tickets.  […]

Ask Shamu: The U.S. Tortures Both Human and Animal Prisoners

Photo: WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

The terms “torture” and ”solitary confinement” have surfaced over and over again in articles and commentaries about Tilikum, the captive killer whale who drowned his trainer at Florida’s SeaWorld last month. For the most part, the authors of these pieces have sought mercy for Tilikum. While the six-ton orca had been implicated in two previous human deaths, they argue, Tilikum’s torturous life in […]

Cruel Punishment Is Not Unusual for Clarence Thomas

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Veteran New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse has an opinion piece today on Clarence Thomas’s “silent but sure” stance on prisons, and ”specifically the meaning of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’” Thomas’s position is highly relevant to the issue of solitary confinement, since critics of long-term lockdown argue that it violates […]

Children Sentenced to Die in Prison

CHILDREN IN LOCKDOWN In the process of researching a post on children in lockdown, we read several recent reports on children sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). The topic warrants a post of its own, especially since the practice is currently under review by the Supreme Court of the United States. According to the web site for 2007 […]