A group of five Pennsylvania inmates has filed a class action lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and its employees, alleging severe mental health consequences resulting from the use of solitary confinement in Pennsylvania prisons. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, specifically targets the Security Threat Group Management Unit (STGMU) at SCI Fayette, a prison facility that housed nearly 2,000 inmates as of August.
According to the complaint, inmates placed in the STGMU face solitary confinement for 22 hours per day without access to mental health treatment, leading to negative mental health outcomes, including suicide attempts. The lawsuit seeks to halt the placement of individuals in this solitary confinement unit, which the plaintiffs describe as “torturous.”
The complaint alleges that inmates are placed into the STGMU without a clear process, preventing them from challenging their placement. One individual’s placement in the unit is said to have resulted in severe psychological decompensation, trauma-induced anxiety, cognitive decline, abject hopelessness and depression, and frequent suicide attempts.
The plaintiffs argue that their due process rights were violated because a hearing is not required for placement in the STGMU. They also claim a violation of the Eighth Amendment, asserting that the solitary confinement conditions pose a threat to their lives due to their mental health conditions. Additionally, the complaint alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, as plaintiffs with psychiatric disabilities were placed in solitary confinement without appropriate accommodations.
The lawsuit also highlights the disproportionate impact of isolation in the STGMU on the Black and Latinx prison population. The majority of inmates in the program belong to these racial and ethnic groups.
This is not the first time the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania has received a complaint against a Pennsylvania correctional institution. In 2020, Allegheny County inmates filed a lawsuit against Allegheny County Jail personnel over the use of solitary confinement instead of proper mental health treatment for individuals with mental health disabilities.