Keramet Reiter

Document Type



This Essay reviews the recent deluge of legal attention solitary confinement has received in the United States, focusing in particular on three legal cases: Davis v. Ayala (a U.S. Supreme Court case), Coleman v. Taylor (a case filed and recently dismissed in a federal district court in Illinois), and Ashker v. Brown (a settled case filed in a federal district court in California). A close analysis of the reasoning in each of these cases provides a framework for examining the changing landscape of prison reform litigation in what many are heralding as a new era of reform. Together, these cases reveal one critical, changing mechanism of success in reform litigation: in each of the three cases, lawyers have leveraged careful investigative reporting and collective action by prisoners in changing not just the legal conversation, but also the public attitude towards isolation. This reveals the growing importance of what I call “multi-method” approaches to reform litigation. However, the reforms being sought and implemented are, perhaps, neither so drastic nor so sustainable as critics of solitary confinement might hope. In light of the history of solitary confinement, three lessons have been ignored and deserve further scrutiny: the persistence of solitary, the opacity of solitary, and the administrative discretion governing solitary