Peoples v. Fischer
In 2011, a prisoner formerly incarcerated at New York State Green Haven Correctional Facility filed a lawsuit against state defendants alleging, inter alia, a violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment after being sentenced to three years in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU). Subsequently, the complaint was amended to include a challenge to the constitutionality of New York State’s policies and customs of using solitary confinement as a punishment for infractions that often present no threat to the safety of the prison.
On February 19, 2014, the case settled by the entry of a stipulated stay of the litigation. Reforms stipulated in the stay include (1) alternatives to SHU sanctions for prisoners under 18, (2) a presumption against SHU sanctions for pregnant prisoners, (3) alternatives to SHU for prisoners with significant intellectual disabilities, and (4) immediately increasing outdoor exercise time at several facilities and providing headphones and “in-cell study packets” at others.
On December 16, 2015, a settlement agreement was reached “that will comprehensively overhaul solitary confinement in New York State – one of the largest prison systems in the country – and provide a framework for ending the state’s overreliance on extreme isolation. The agreement will result in the end of traditional solitary confinement for more than 1,100 people – one-quarter of the current solitary population – who will either be placed in alternative units or provided with less isolating, more rehabilitative conditions. The settlement is expected to reduce the solitary population even further by eliminating solitary confinement as punishment for all minor violations and limiting the duration of most solitary sentences, and it will abolish several of solitary’s most dehumanizing features altogether.”
For case profile, procedural history, and case documents, see University of Michigan Law School, Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, “Case Profile Peoples v. Fischer” – click here.
Keywords: juvenile, youth, pregnant, disabilities, class, 1983, New York state department of correctional services, New York, SHU, eighth amendment, cruel and unusual punishment, disciplinary segregation, Peoples v Fischer, Peoples v Fisher, Peoples v. Fisher