On Demand Audio

Recent Developments in the Law of Solitary Confinement

(311 reviews)

Produced on September 01, 2016

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Course Information

Time 1h
Difficulty Advanced

Course Description

There are hundreds of thousands of federal, state, and local prisoners currently being held in solitary confinement. Until recently, very few prisoners were able to successfully challenge such isolation, and the courts were quick to defer to prison officials’ justifications of such confinement as necessary to protect prison security. In just the last year, however, we have seen major settlements in New York and California, drastically curtailing the use of solitary confinement, and strong statements against such practices by President Obama, Justice Kennedy, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. 

This course charts the changing landscape of legal and extra-legal challenges to solitary, including an in-depth analysis of the relevant constitutional arguments, the state of expert analysis, and case studies of the recent settlements in New York and California. 

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand the current and historical use of solitary confinement in the United States, and the conditions of that confinement
  2. Grasp relevant constitutional claims
  3. Learn of recent expert evidence on the effects of solitary confinement on mental and physical health, and prison security
  4. Practical guidance for challenging solitary confinement in the federal courts 

Credit Information

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Rachel Meeropol

Center for Constitutional Rights

Rachel Meeropol is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where she works on prisoners’ rights, Muslim profiling, criminalization of dissent, and First Amendment issues, including defending environmental and animal rights activists targeted by the Green Scare. She is lead counsel on Turkmen v. Ashcroft, a class action suit on behalf of non-citizens suing high-level federal officials for illegal detention and abuse after 9/11, is counsel in Ashker v. Brown, a class action lawsuit challenging long-term solitary confinement in California’s Pelican Bay prison, and represents federal prisoners held in the Bureau of Prisons’ restrictive Communication Management Units, in Aref v. Holder. Rachel was lead counsel in Blum v. Holder, a First Amendment challenge to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and on CCR’s amicus brief in Animal Legal Defense Fund, et al. v. Otter, et al., a challenge to Idaho’s “ag-gag” law, which punishes undercover investigations and whistleblowing inside animal agricultural facilities and slaughter plants. She is lead counsel on CCR’s motion to dismiss “animal enterprise terrorism” charges against two animal rights activists accused of freeing thousands of mink and foxes from fur farms, in U.S. v. Johnson.

Rachel holds an undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and graduated from NYU Law School. She has co-edited and written two editions of the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook, a do-it-yourself litigation manual for prisoners distributed free by CCR and the National Lawyers Guild, and was the contributing editor of America’s Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the War on Terror, published by Seven Stories Press in 2005.  

Rachel’s recent writing includes, “Activists are fighting to speak. Are you willing to listen?” on the Huffington Post, “Death row: America’s torture chamber” in The Guardian, and “Attention Left, Liberal and Radical Groups – Pennsylvania Has Been Monitoring You” on Common Dreams. She and her writing have appeared in outlets including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, Dan Rather Reports, and ProPublica.

Alexis Agathocleous

Center for Constitutional Rights

Alexis Agathocleous is a Deputy Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where he works on issues of mass incarceration, criminal justice, LGBTQ discrimination, gender justice, profiling of Muslims, and the criminalization of dissent. He is counsel for plaintiffs in Aref, et al. v. Holder, et. al., challenging policies and conditions at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Communications Management Units, and in Ashker v. Brown, a class action lawsuit challenging long-term solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay prison. He was lead counsel in Doe v. Jindal and Doe v. Caldwell, successful challenges to a Louisiana law that required individuals convicted of a “Crime Against Nature” to register as sex offenders.

Before coming to CCR, Alexis was a senior staff attorney at the Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD) and director of OAD’s Reinvestigation Project. He was a Karpatkin Fellow with the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union. Alexis graduated from Yale Law School, where he was a Coker Fellow and interned at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Alexis’s recent writing includes “Rampant use of solitary confinement in the US constitutes torture” on MSNBC.com, “Pelican Bay Hunger Strike One Year Later: The Movement Against Solitary Confinement Grows” on the Huffington Post, and “Eight Years After Lawrence, Sodomy Laws Are Alive and Kicking” on the Bilerico Project. Alexis and his writing have appeared in numerous outlets including National Public Radio, The Los Angeles Times, The Observer, Al-Jazeera, and New York Magazine.


Edward M.

Excellent presentation

John B.

Well done, then!

Stephanie P.

Ashker is a fascinating case!

Christopher B.

Excellent course, including organization and presentation of some complicated material.

Edward P.

Very Good Course.

Jeanne N.

both had pleasant voice tones clearly presented materials

Kimberly R.

Best presentation

mark s.

very helpful

Eric P.


Cathleen C.

Excellent speakers. Great program.

John P.

very interesting and well-presented

Monroe S.

A very thoughtful and interesting program.

Andrew S.

Thank you, great stuff!

Cynthia J.

The most competent and articulate presenters I've experienced,

Frederick K.

A very informative presentation.

Susan T.

Very good content Extremely good and caring attorneys who worked on these cases

Kathleen B.

fascinating story about Pelican-bay prison! Very thorough review of the law on the subject!!

Geoffrey K.

Both speakers made interesting and effective presentations.

Melissa H.

Very well presented.

Sharon M.

Good. The topic was extremely interesting and the presenters were good.

Lawrence F.

Great course with extremely helpful and practical information. Thank you

Peter C.

best course yet by a mile by every standard, well prepared, great slides, clearly presented, every minute was interesting and informative, presenters knew their stuff, hope they do another course, great way to get the word out, way to go!, wish I lived next door to a maximum security prison, there is work to be done!

Maureen N.

Great review of an important humanitarian topic that I didn't learn about in law school.

Darrell R. J.

Excellent and timely presentation. Speakers are outstanding.

Charles C.

very good. been defense attorney many years, this was very helpful

Edna B.

Extremely interesting

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