Supreme Court Rules Prisoners Guaranteed Due Process Review Before Supermax Confinement

In Washington, D.C, on June 13, 2005, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that prison officials cannot confine inmates in long term solitary confinement in a supermaximum prison without first giving them the opportunity to challenge their placement.

Ruling in Wilkinson v. Austin, a class action case brought on behalf of inmates of the Ohio supermax prison, Justice Kennedy held that prisoners have a liberty interest in not being sent into the extreme isolation of long term supermax confinement. 

The Court held that prisoners are entitled to the notice of the factual basis of the reasons for their placement in the supermax, an opportunity to respond, and notice of the decision which provided the reasons for their placement.

Attorneys expressed disappointment, however, that the Court reversed the district court’s procedural protections, which they thought were both appropriate and important. The Court held, for example, that prisoners are not entitled to call witnesses to dispute their placement at the supermax. 

“Today’s decision represents a victory for thousands of prisoners,” said Center for Constitutional Rights co-operating attorney Jules Lobel, who argued the case in the Supreme Court. “By recognizing that prisoners have a liberty interest in not being confined in a supermax, the court makes it possible for prisoners to challenge arbitrary placements in a supermax in federal court.”

“This ruling will benefit not only prisoners being held in Ohio but has the potential to effect prisoners across the country in jeopardy of being confined in a supermax facility,” said Stavghvon Lynd, co-operating attorney, Ohio, ACLU.  

The ruling, which will affect 400 prisoners in Ohio and potentially tens of thousand of inmates across the country stems from a case originally brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Ohio ACLU. First filed in January 2001, the class-action lawsuit charged officials of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitations and Corrections with treatment of inmates at OSP that was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.


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Last modified 

October 23, 2007