MANHATTAN (CN) – A convicted rapist subjected to more than two years of solitary confinement for a nonviolent infraction he committed in prison can sue for cruel and unusual punishment, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
“Leroy Peoples was housed in segregation for over two years, even though there was never any finding that he posed a threat to the safety of others or the security of the prison,” U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote. “His placement in the SHU for such a time period was grossly disproportionate to the non-violent violation that he was found to have committed.”
The SHU, or special housing unit, at Green Haven Correctional Facility in upstate New York keeps prisoners in solitary confinement.
Peoples says Green Haven put him in solitary after a corrections officer found 148 documents making bogus financial claims against prison officials on Oct. 5, 2009.
The Inmate Misbehavior Report says Peoples violated two prison regulations by making “financial claims that are bogus [and] without legal basis.” (Brackets in original)
Peoples says he faced a misbehavior report hearing that had the “normal formalities of a hearing.”
According to Peoples’ complaint and a Superintendent Hearing Disposition Report, Peoples was sentenced to three years confinement in the SHU; loss of phone, package, and commissary privileges for the period; and a recommended 72-month deduction of good time credit.
Peoples says he got into a fistfight with another inmate about a month after this sentence, and that his mental state devolved under the “psychological torture” of confinement.
After following the grievance procedure, Peoples filed a federal complaint in April 2011. Judge Scheindlin, a vocal opponent of solitary confinement, caught the case.
Scheindlin found in May that three of the corrections officers whom Peoples had sued, Lt. Ward, Norman Bezio and D. Rock, did not deserve immmunity.
She cleared Ward on Tuesday, but otherwise upheld her original ruling.
“[Peoples] has therefore stated a plausible claim that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment,” the opinion states.
The 17-page opinion opens with criticisms that the practice faces from most mainstream justice organizations in the United States.
“As the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons recently found, ‘[t]he overreliance on and inappropriate use of segregation hurts individual prisoners and officers. But the consequences are broader than that: The misuse of segregation works against the process of rehabilitating people and threatens public safety,'” Scheindlin wrote. “In 2010, the American Bar Association approved its Criminal Justice Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners, which recommend that “[s]egregated housing should be for the briefest term and under the least restrictive conditions practicable and consistent with the rationale for placement and with the progress achieved by the prisoner.”
The ABA’s dissent demonstrates how serious the problem is, Scheindlin noted.
“These ABA standards are not radical or fringe views: on the contrary, ‘[t]he Standards’ unique contribution … is to address all the aspects of long-term segregation by presenting solutions that embody a consensus view of representatives of all segments of the criminal justice system who worked on them together in the exhaustive and collaborative ABA Standards process,'” she wrote.
After Green Haven, Peoples was transferred to the supermax penitentiary at Attica and is now at Upstate Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, according to court records. The Queens District Attorney’s Office says Peoples was sentenced to 16 years in 2005 for the rape of two women.