- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that in extreme cases solitary confinement can violate an inmate’s constitutional rights.

In a ruling Friday, the justices ordered Kansas judges to consider an inmate’s duration in solitary confinement when determining whether the inmate’s rights had been infringed upon.

The case involved James Jamerson, 33, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and other charges linked to a 2001 homicide in Topeka.

Jamerson was placed in solitary confinement in 2010 after being threatened with gang violence and accused of taking part in contraband trafficking, the Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/1Sa31oG) reported.

When he filed a writ of habeas corpus in August 2013, he had been in solitary confinement for more than 1,000 days. He argued that his placement in solitary confinement was based on falsehoods and without due process, in violation of his constitutional rights.

Butler County District Court Judge John Sanders dismissed Jamerson’s appeal because it was not timely and because solitary confinement does not involve constitutional rights, he said.

The Kansas Court of Appeals found that Jamerson’s appeal should not be dismissed for being untimely, but otherwise the judges agreed that a lengthy duration of solitary confinement does not challenge constitutional rights.

The Kansas Supreme Court was asked to consider the matter, but by that time Jamerson was no longer in solitary confinement. The court determined the case was moot, but opted to hear it in the hopes of setting a precedent.

There are two different forms of solitary confinement under Kansas law: disciplinary segregation, which is short term and used as a punishment, and administrative segregation, which can last decades as a way for prisons to keep inmates out of the general population for safety and security reasons.

“A correctional classification that is so harsh that it is used as punishment on some inmates may thus be imposed for longer periods of time on inmates who have not been designated for punitive treatment,” Justice Eric Rosen wrote Friday.

The ruling has no effect on Jamerson’s treatment because he is no longer in segregation. Regardless, the ruling “should not be lightly disregarded,” Rosen wrote.

“We nevertheless issue this opinion to provide guidance to courts as they encounter liberty interest claims in the future,” he wrote.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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