Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Prisoner wins due process solitary confinement appeal

This inmate has been in the slammer for a long time. He sues the Department of Corrections over his 22 straight years of solitary confinement. The argument is that the state has denied him due process in failing to properly review his eligibility to return to general population. The Court of Appeals says a jury must decide if the state violated his due process rights.

The case is Proctor v. LeClaire, decided on January 24. The Court of Appeals (Wesley, Katzmann and Hall) recounts Proctor's prison record, which was positively awful in the early years but got a little better over time. You don't even want to know what this guy was up to in his early days in the 1980s and early 1990s. While his behavior "has remained positive" in recent years, there have been some isolated problems. The state keeps him solitary confinement, however, and it must follow certain procedures along the way if it wants to keep him htere. That process includes a report from the Facility Committee (at the jail) from the Central Office Committee in Albany, before the deputy commissioner makes the final decision.

The Second Circuit sets out some guidelines for cases like this. First, "the reviewing prison officials must actually evaluate whether the inmate's continued Ad Seg confinement is justified," and it cannot just go through the motions or phone it in. Second, reviewing officials must determine whether the justification for Ad Seg exists at the time of review or will exist in the future. Third, they must maintain institutional safety and security as their guiding principles in reviewing these cases. The extensive discussion guiding this process makes this case the leading Second Circuit opinion on the due process rights of prisoners who are locked away in solitary confinement.

The Court of Appeals says plaintiff may have a case. It appears the periodic review process results in a pre-ordained result: plaintiff remains in solitary. State witnesses said in deposition that under standard practice, inmates "never" get out of Ad Seg. As the Second Circuit sees it, the process involves hollow formalities, as one official says the prisoner's criminal history can support continued solitary confinement. As that would obviate the need to conduct periodic reviews, there is no real due process, which requires fair consideration of the prisoner's right to possibly return to general population, where he can make friends and walk among the living. Other witnesses suggested that no real standards guide these decisions. This excerpt from the decision sums it up:

One comes away from these depositions with nagging skepticism about whether there is anything Proctor could ever do to be released from Ad Seg. And indeed when Proctor’s counsel asked DeLutis that very question, DeLutis made clear that the answer is no, stating that there is nothing that Proctor can do that would convince DOCCS officials to release him. DeLutis affirmed that he disregards evidence of Proctor’s recent behavior when conducting section 301.4(d) reviews because that information has no effect given Proctor’s two‐decade‐old escape. officials are not just moving the goalposts on Ad Seg inmates like Proctor—there are no goalposts at all.

While the Court points out that "some of the evidence could lead a reasonable jury to conclude ... that DOCCS officials have analyzed Proctor's good behavior in their [periodic] reviews and found it to be outweighed by other facts, specifically Proctor's multiple escape attempts and violent acts toward other prisoners," the state can still win the case at trial. But there will in fact be a trial.

No comments: