Squire Sanders Public Service Initiative associates Carine M. Williams and Samuel Spital participated in an April 7 congressional briefing on the use and effects of solitary confinement in American prisons.
The public briefing, convened by John Conyers (D-MI), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), spotlighted the lengthy solitary confinement of one former and two current Louisiana inmates who have been confined for 28 to 39 years in 23-hour-a-day solitary cells despite their continued exemplary behavior. Squire Sanders currently represents the three men in Wilkerson v. Stalder, a federal suit challenging such excessive confinement inter alia as cruel and unusual, and because the punishment has been imposed arbitrarily and without due process.
Addressing a packed audience, Robert King Wilkerson–a plaintiff in the suit who was released after his wrongful conviction was overturned in 2001–discussed how he was affected by decades of 23-hour-a-day lockdown. Other panelists included experts who described the physical and mental effects of solitary confinement, its misuse on mentally ill inmates and its appropriate, limited role in correctional policy. Congressmen Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Hank Johnson (D-GA) also delivered remarks on the possibilities for legislative solutions to various issues concerning federal and state prisons. The briefing also included a showing of In the Land of the Free, a recent feature-length documentary on the three men that has been screened at numerous prestigious film festivals. After the screening, Ms. Williams spoke about Squire Sanders’ work in this important case and answered questions from the audience about the suit.
Commenting on the importance of the briefing, George H. Kendall, director of the Squire Sanders Public Service Initiative, noted, “Congress and other public policy leaders are becoming increasingly interested in whether costly solitary confinement is overused in our state and federal prisons. I know that the members who attended this hearing were appreciative of Carine’s remarks.”