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Book cover: Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

ISSN: 1059-4337
Series editor(s): Professor Austin Sarat

Subject Area: Sociology and Public Policy

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The Most Restrictive Alternative: A Litigation History of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons, 1960–2006


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Title:The Most Restrictive Alternative: A Litigation History of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons, 1960–2006
Author(s):Keramet Ann Reiter
Volume:57 Editor(s): Austin Sarat ISBN: 978-1-78052-622-5 eISBN: 978-1-78052-623-2
Citation:Keramet Ann Reiter (2012), The Most Restrictive Alternative: A Litigation History of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons, 1960–2006, in Austin Sarat (ed.) Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Volume 57), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.71-124
DOI:10.1108/S1059-4337(2012)0000057006 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article type:Chapter Item
Abstract:Supermaxes across the United States detain thousands in long-term solitary confinement, under conditions of extreme sensory deprivation. Almost every state built a supermax between the late 1980s and the late 1990s. This chapter examines the role of federal prisoners’ rights litigation in the 1960s and 1970s in shaping the prisons, especially supermaxes, built in the 1980s and 1990s in the United States. This chapter uses a systematic analysis of federal court case law, as well as archival research and oral history interviews with key informants, including lawyers, experts, and correctional administrators, to explore the relationship between federal court litigation and prison building and designing. This chapter argues that federal conditions of confinement litigation in the 1960s and 1970s (1) had a direct role in shaping the supermax institutions built in the subsequent decades and (2) contributed to the resistance of these institutions to constitutional challenges. The history of litigation around supermaxes is an important and as-yet-unexplored aspect of the development of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence in the United States over the last half century.

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