Grant Henderson


In 1995, the Supreme Court decided Sandin v. Connor, which held inmates did not have a protected liberty interest requiring due process before being placed in solitary confinement. With the increasing problems in the criminal justice systems nationwide, or perhaps a renewed interest in those problems, the public has turned its attention to the plight of the incarcerated. This Comment seeks to flush out the reasoning the Court provided in Sandin and understand the impacts of the “atypical and significant hardship” on subsequent prisoner litigation, chiefly involving solitary confinement. Following the legal analysis of cases, this Comment will view the process of how prisoners end up in solitary confinement in federal prisons and then look to the psychological world, which has provided a number of studies on the effect solitary confinement has on prisoners. When creating law, it should be informed first and foremost by reason; it is understandable how the Court made its decision in Sandin, absent evidence that there is a very real distinction between the effect of being in general population and the effect of being in solitary confinement. However, today, almost twenty years after Sandin, we know there is a substantial difference between the effects each type of incarceration has on inmates, which is not adequately handled by administrative proceedings that lack due process. The effect solitary confinement has on individuals is detrimental to the mental and social health of inmates and is experienced by few within the prison context, and knowing this, it is appropriate that solitary confinement be regarded as an “atypical and significant hardship” within the federal prison context, thus invoking the due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment.

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