Immunity for Prison Officials on Solitary Sparks Dissent

MANHATTAN (CN) – A Second Circuit judge objected Wednesday that prison officials will get immunity after subjecting an inmate named Almighty Supreme Born Allah to lengthy stints in solitary confinement.

“For many months during his time as a pretrial detainee, Allah spent twenty‐three hours per day alone in his cell,” the dissent by U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler states. “He was required to wear leg irons, and shackles behind his back, when he exited. The leg irons stayed on even when he showered. He had few visits with family, few phone calls, and few other privileges.

“I do not see how these conditions were materially different from ‘loading [him] with chains and shackles and throwing him in a dungeon,’” she added.

Pooler dissented Thursday from a ruling by her two colleagues in Manhattan that finds that prison officials at Connecticut’s Department of Corrections deserve qualified immunity for violations of Allah’s due-process rights.

Allah joined the inmate population at Carl Robinson Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison that experienced a riot in the early 1990s, while serving a 27-month sentence.

His first visit to solitary occurred after guards accused him of “impeding order,” believing he could have incited a protest on Dec. 22, 2009, when asking an officer at the control station if he could speak to the lieutenant about a delayed visit to the prison commissary.

Allah ultimately racked up to more than a year in so-called administrative segregation after a string of events inspired by this first infraction.

The Second Circuit was unanimous Wednesday that this treatment violated Allah’s rights.

“Defendants have failed to explain why such extreme treatment was necessary,” U.S. Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for the court.

Pooler and the majority parted ways on whether the officers who made this call were immune from civil suit.

“In assigning Allah to administrative segregation, defendants were following an established DOC practice,” the 26-page majority opinion states. “No prior decision of the Supreme Court or of this court (or, so far as we are aware, of any other court) has assessed the constitutionality of that particular practice.”

Pooler argued, however, that her colleagues overlooked Supreme Court precedent in the case of Bell v. Wolfish, a 1979 ruling allowing strip searches of pretrial inmates.

Though a civil rights setback in some ways, the Wolfish case also banned dungeon-like prison conditions without justication.

“Even if the majority is correct that Allah was punished based on that policy, I would still deny the officials qualified immunity,” Pooler wrote in a 7-page dissent. “As the majority notes, and as I agree, the policy ‘was not reasonably related to any legitimate government interest.’”

Allah’s attorney John Morgan, a partner with the Stamford, Connecticut-based firm Barr & Morgan, declined to comment.

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