Pennsylvania inmates sue state corrections department over ‘torturous’ solitary confinement conditions


The lawsuit, filed last week, alleges severe mental health consequences stemming from the use of solitary confinement in Pennsylvania prisons. The lawsuit was filed last week and alleges that solitary confinement is causing severe mental health problems in Pennsylvania prisons. Tina Walker, the superintendent of SCI Fayette and other members of its leadership are also defendants. As recently as August, SCI Fayette housed almost 2,000 state inmates, which is 90 percent of its operating capacity.

Specifically, the lawsuit targets the Security Threat Group Management Unit (STGMU) at SCI Fayette. The complaint states that it is not known how inmates are assigned to the STGMU and therefore inmates cannot contest their placement. The complaint alleges one individual’s placement in the STGMU “ha

led to torturous conditions, causing severe psychological decompensation, trauma-induced anxiety, cognitive decline, abject hopelessness and depression, and frequent suicide attempts by those trapped in the unit.” Additionally, the plaintiffs claim people in the STGMU face solitary confinement in a cell for 22 hours per day without access to mental health treatment, fueling negative mental health outcomes including suicide attempts.

Because of this, the lawsuit seeks to halt the STGMU from placing individuals in this “torturous” solitary confinement. Highlighting these conditions, the complaint explains, “[s] have virtually no contact with others, except when they are taken to the extremely small outdoor yard cages, surrounded by other incarcerated individuals who may be experiencing extreme emotional distress or psychosis.”

The plaintiffs seek relief under the US Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, claiming their due process rights were violated because a placement in the STGMU does not require a hearing. The plaintiffs also claim that solitary confinement violates the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment because their mental health puts them at greater risk of harm. Finally, there are claims under the American Disabilities Act because SCI Fayette placed plaintiffs in solitary confinement due to their psychiatric disabilities and under the Rehabilitation Act by not providing accommodations to plaintiffs’ mental health disabilities.[The inmates]The complaint also highlights the disparate impacts isolation in the STGMU has on the general prison population because the majority of inmates in this program are Black and Latinx.

This is not the first time this particular federal court has received a complaint against a Pennsylvania correctional institution. Allegheny County Jail staff were sued in 2020 for harm caused to people with mental disabilities by the use of solitary.