Case

Wallace v. Baldwin (Seventh Circuit)

Solitary Confinement

Mr. Wallace, who suffers from mental illness, has been in solitary confinement since 2006. Mr. Wallace sued, charging that his solitary confinement and the process accompanying its imposition violated the constitution. The district court dismissed the case after concluding that Mr. Wallace was not under imminent danger of serious physical injury and, accordingly, could not sue without pre-paying the entire filing fee. Mr. Wallace, by virtue of his solitary confinement, could not earn money to pay the filing fee. With co-counsel at Sidley Austin, including clinic alum Tom Keyes, the MacArthur Justice Center challenged this decision, arguing that (1) prolonged solitary is so dangerous that it places all prisoners in imminent danger of serious physical injury, and (2) prolonged solitary is doubly dangerous for prisoners suffering from mental illness. Relying in part on one of our prior solitary cases (Sanders v. Melvin), the Seventh Circuit reversed in an opinion authored by Judge Hamilton. The opinion is notable for the attention it calls to the “scientific consensus . . . that prisoners held in solitary confinement experience serious, often debilitating—even irreparable—mental and physical harms, including the increased risk of suicide.”