Lawsuit: Kan. rule to hold inmates sentenced to die in solitary is unconstitutional

Attorneys argued the procedure denies inmates "meaningful human contact for years on end" and subjects them to cruel and unusual punishment


By Luke Nozicka
The Kansas City Star

LANSING, Kan. — Two prisoners have sued the head of the Kansas Department of Corrections, arguing that its policy to "automatically and permanently" hold inmates who have received a death sentence in solitary confinement is unconstitutional.

The procedure, which places those inmates in solitary until their sentence is overturned or they die, denies them "meaningful human contact for years on end" and subjects them to cruel and unusual punishment, their attorneys argued in the lawsuit.

One of the prisoners suing, Sidney Gleason, 41, has been held in solitary confinement for more than 14 years at El Dorado Correctional Facility. The other, Scott Cheever, 39, has been in solitary for more than 12 years at Lansing Correctional Facility.

Gleason was sentenced to death in 2006 after he was convicted in the 2004 fatal shooting of a couple in Barton County. Cheever was sentenced to die in 2008 after he was convicted of gunning down Greenwood County's sheriff during a 2005 drug raid.

Officials confine death-sentenced inmates, regardless of their behavior in prison, alone for at least 22 hours a day in cells about the size of a "typical spot in a parking lot," according to the lawsuit, which was filed Friday in the U.S. District of Kansas.

That practice, the lawsuit argued, is "extreme, debilitating and inhumane" and "violates contemporary standards of decency." It noted that medical experts have for years said solitary confinement causes severe psychological and physical damage.

Randy Bowman, a corrections spokesman, said the Department of Corrections had not been served with the petition, but that it generally does not comment on the specifics of pending litigation.

The 10 inmates sentenced to death in Kansas have each been held in solitary, sometimes called "administrative segregation," for four to more than 17 years, according to the lawsuit. Seven of them have been in solitary for more than a decade.

Other states weigh several factors, such as an inmate's age and disciplinary record, to determine if a prisoner should be held in solitary, according to the lawsuit. Kansas' policy, it said, is "inconsistent with accepted correctional practices."

The lawsuit calls for officials to present a "meaningful individualized placement procedure" for inmates sentenced to death.

Kansas has not executed an inmate since 1965, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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(c)2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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