Solitary Confinement

Filed - November 25, 2019

Johnson v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections


For two decades, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections held Roderick Johnson on death row in solitary confinement. The DOC even refused to remove Mr. Johnson from solitary confinement when his conviction and death sentence were vacated after the Commonwealth’s evidence was found wholly unreliable.

Mr. Johnson sued pro se, raising Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, but the district court granted the DOC’s motion to dismiss, reasoning that Pennsylvania was entitled to hold Mr. Johnson in solitary confinement on death row while the Commonwealth appealed to reimpose Mr. Johnson’s conviction and death sentence. The Third Circuit disagreed, adopting our argument that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated by 20 years of solitary confinement on death row irrespective of the Commonwealth’s ultimately unsuccessful attempts to reinstate Mr. Johnson’s conviction and death sentence.

“We are grateful that the court of appeals recognized that three-decade old Third Circuit case law holding solitary confinement constitutional can no longer be squared with ‘research and case law [that] have since . . . ma[de] the devastating effects of prolonged solitary confinement abundantly clear.”

In February 2021, the Third Circuit held that Mr. Johnson’s prolonged solitary confinement was incompatible with the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.