I read with dismay that the Supreme Court has yet again weakened the rights of inmates to sue to obtain due process before being placed in isolation units in prisons (June 20). Since diminishing any prisoners' rights will likely be widely applauded by most politicians, there is a need to explain why everyone should care about the way inmates are treated during their period of incarceration, aside from the obvious humanitarian concerns.
Those reasons can best be summed up in three words--Robert Walker Scully. He's the man released directly to the community after having served the final year of his imprisonment in Pelican Bay Prison's infamous "hole" or isolation unit. One federal judge has ruled that the "hole" at Pelican Bay "can have serious psychiatric consequences" on its captives. Essentially, Scully went from having no human contact and no direct line of vision to the outside world to complete and unfettered freedom in the blink of an eye.
Scully entered prison as an armed robber and was accused of killing a cop less than a week after his release. If restrictions against long-term isolation were strengthened by the Supreme Court, instead of diminished, perhaps that police officer would still be alive today.