Florida inmates are latest in fight against mandatory solitary for death row residents

Florida inmates are latest in fight against mandatory solitary for death row residents

A class action suit challenges isolation as a matter of policy

Written by
Edited by JPat Brown

This summer, nine inmates from Florida’s death row submitted a class action lawsuit against the state’s Department of Corrections, challenging conditions for those awaiting capital punishment in the Sunshine State and joining a handful of others - including California, Louisiana, and Virginia - where prisoners condemned to death are demanding more humane daily existences.

Suffering isolation in windowless cells for the majority of the day, the plaintiffs on the case have spent, combined, over 150 years on Florida’s death row. A total 356 individuals are currently there, awaiting their final days. The policy of automatically placing condemned inmates in a restrictive housing situation is a violation of citizens’ 8th and 14th Amendment rights, according to the suit, given that solitary confinement and similar housing situations are widely-recognized as being detrimental to prisoners’ physical and mental health.

In March, prisoners in Louisiana filed a similar suit.

Policies at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola have since loosened to allow inmates more time out of their cells, but that suit will carry on, in the hopes that the changes will expand permanently. As the result of a similar suit in Arizona, that state is currently working on changes to its policy.

Florida’s particularly controversial capital punishment policies have made multiple appearance in the courts recently. Early in 2016, the United States Supreme Court found that the state’s capital sentencing was unconstitutional, following a decision from Florida’s Supreme Court that such jury decisions should be unanimous. A subsequent decision from a State Attorney, who claimed that she would never seek the death penalty on any cases, faced strong opposition from the Governor Rick Scott and ultimately ended in a rescindment of the decision.

More about state policies on solitary confinement and death row can be found on the Solitary Census and Death Penalty Project pages. The ACLU’s 2013 report “A Death Before Dying” is embedded below.

Image via Texas Department of Corrections