Supreme Court Upholds ‘Supermax’ Prison Policy


The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld an Ohio corrections policy that allows the most dangerous criminals to be locked up in isolated super-maximum-security prison cells, reports USA Today. But the justices also found that prisoners have a constitutional interest in avoiding assignment to such cells. As a result, prison officials must ensure that there are several levels of review when a prisoner is transferred to a cell designed to deprive an inmate of almost all human contact and which, in Ohio, eliminates the chance of parole.

About 30 states run highly restrictive “supermax” facilities, and the federal government operates two. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote for the court, noted that the use of such facilities had increased over the last 20 years in response to gang violence. “Gangs seek nothing less than to control prison life and to extend their power outside prison walls,” Kennedy wrote. “Murder of an inmate, a guard or one of their family members on the outside is a common form of gang discipline.” And, he wrote, prolonged confinement in a supermax cell may be the state’s only option to control gang members.


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