New opinion — a landmark prisoner-civil-rights win in solitary-confinement case

Palakovic v. Wetzel — prisoner civil rights — reversal — Smith

The Third Circuit issued a major prisoner-rights decision today, ably summarized in its opening paragraph:

Brandon Palakovic, a mentally ill young man who
was imprisoned at the State Correctional Institution at
Cresson, Pennsylvania (SCI Cresson), committed suicide
after repeatedly being placed in solitary confinement.
His parents, Renee and Darian Palakovic, brought this
civil rights action after their son’s death. The District
Court dismissed the family’s Eighth Amendment claims
against prison officials and medical personnel for failure
to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. We
write today to clarify and elaborate upon the legal
principles that apply to Eighth Amendment claims arising
out of prison suicides. For the reasons that follow, we
will vacate the District Court’s dismissals.

The opinion chillingly documents Palakovic’s alleged suicide-risk red flags, and it notes that the complaint alleges that the prison’s ” practice for dealing with mentally ill prisoners like Brandon was to relegate them to solitary confinement.” And the court “acknowledge[d] the robust body of legal and scientific authority recognizing the devastating mental health consequences caused by long-term isolation in solitary confinement” and “the increasingly obvious reality that extended stays in solitary confinement can cause serious damage to mental health.”

Joining Smith were Jordan and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center for the prisoner’s estate, Howard Hopkirk of the PA AG’s office for the defendant prison officials, and associate Cassidy Neal of Matis Baum for the defendant medical providers.

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