Solitary Confinement Case Dies With Death-Row Inmate's Execution

Supreme Court tosses Alfredo Prieto's challenge two weeks after his execution.

Without explanation, the Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear the case of Alfredo Prieto, a Virginia death-row inmate who had mounted a constitutional challenge to his conditions of solitary confinement.

Prieto was executed on Oct. 1, and the justices accordingly dismissed his petition "as moot." The court also previously denied several last-minute requests to halt his execution.

Along with the dismissal on Tuesday, the court turned away a request from a second Virginia inmate, Mark Eric Lawlor, who moved to intervene in the Prieto case after his death. Both inmates shared the same lawyers.

In his own petition, Lawlor said the conditions of solitary confinement to which he is subjected are "identical" to those of Prieto.

In both their petitions, Prieto and Lawlor quoted Justice Anthony Kennedy's words in an unrelated case where he questioned the validity of solitary confinement: "Years on end of near-total isolation exact a terrible price." 

Kennedy closed that opinion with a Dostoyevsky quote: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

A group of psychologists and psychiatrists with experience on the harmful effects of solitary confinement on prisoners had filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting Prieto's bid to hear his case.

The court's refusal aside, Prieto's efforts may have not been in vain. The Associated Press reported on Friday that Virginia is slowly improving the way it treats prisoners in isolation thanks, in part, to Prieto's and other inmates' legal challenges.