2. Eighth Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishment
The Eighth Amendment forbids the federal government from inflicting “cruel and
unusual punishments.” 191 To determine whether a condition of confinement rises to the level of
cruel and unusual punishment, the condition must be an “unnecessary and wanton infliction of
pain[,]” 192 both objectively and subjectively. 193 The objective component requires that a
deficiency be a “sufficiently serious” 194 deprivation that lacks “the minimal civilized measure of
life's necessities” 195 in order to violate the Eighth Amendment. 196 However, even if a condition of
confinement is serious enough to invoke the protection of the Eighth Amendment, it is not
considered cruel and unusual punishment unless the responsible parties subjectively imposed the
condition with deliberate indifference to the prisoner’s well being. 197
Solitary confinement is not per se a violation of the Eighth Amendment. 198 Successful
Eighth Amendment claims against the use of solitary confinement with adults have often focused
on the specific conditions to which an individual is subjected and not the fact of solitary
confinement. 199 Some courts have found that excessive isolation of juvenile delinquents is in
violation of the Eighth Amendment. 200 Courts are permitted to consider the increased impact of
isolation on youth in determining the severity of the deprivation, 201 but there is no separate cruel
and unusual punishment standard applicable to juvenile delinquents.
Therefore, the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment can
extend to the use of isolation for youth. In order to prove a violation, however, youth must be
able to show both that the deprivation denied them a necessity of civilized life, and that the
facility staff acted with deliberate indifference to their welfare by placing them in isolation. 202
Courts that have recognized Eighth Amendment rights for youth have applied the same criteria as
would be applied to adult inmates, affording no changes or adjustments to the standard for the
differences between adults and children. This exceptionally high standard protects youth from
191 U.S. CONST. amend. VIII.
192 Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976).
193 Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991).
195 Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).
196 Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298.
197 Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (concluding “that deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners
constitutes ‘unncessary and wanton infliction of pain’… proscribed by the Eighth Amendment”).
198 Ford v. Bd. of Managers of N.J. State Prisons, 407 F.2d 937, 940 (3d Cir. 1969).
199 See, e.g., McCray v. Sullivan, 509 F.2d 1332, 1334-37 (5th Cir. 1975) (holding that isolation is not per se unconstitutional, but in
determining that this particular instance of isolation violated the plaintiff’s rights under the Eighth Amendment, the court considered
factors such as hygiene, exercise, the availability of visitation, and the existence of a rehabilitation program).
200 See Morgan v. Sproat, 432 F. Supp. 1130, 1140 (S.D. Miss. 1977) (holding that use of isolation for longer than twenty-four hours
or for reasons other than protecting oneself or others from an immediate physical threat constitutes cruel and unusual punishment);
Pena v. N. Y. State Div. for Youth, 419 F. Supp. 203, 207 (S.D.N. Y. 1976) (explaining that because youth have the right to treatment,
use of isolation is cruel and unusual punishment when it is punitive rather than therapeutic); Morales v. Turman, 364 F. Supp. 166,
174 (E.D. Tex. 1973) (finding that isolation of juveniles without “any legislative or administrative limitation on the duration and
intensity of the confinement” was cruel and unusual punishment); Nelson v. Heyne, 355 F. Supp. 451, 456 (N.D. Ind. 1972), aff’d, 491
F.2d 352 (7th Cir. 1974) (holding that use of isolation cottages for extended periods of time with minimal contact with treatment staff
and no academic services was cruel and unusual); Inmates of Boys’ Training Sch. v. Affleck, 346 F. Supp. 1354, 1359, 1366-67
(D.R.I. 1972) (finding that systematic isolation in rooms with nothing but a toilet and a mattress was cruel and unusual punishment
when youth were provided with no more than one and a half hours of education a day and no exercise); Lollis v. N. Y. State Dep’t of
Soc. Servs., 322 F. Supp. 473, 476-77, 482-83 (S.D.N. Y. 1970) (holding that isolation of a fourteen-year-old in a small room without a
mattress during the day, books, or any other recreation for two weeks was cruel and unusual punishment).
201 See, e.g., Lollis, 322 F. Supp at 480 (examining the affidavits submitted by seven experts that unanimously condemned the use of
extended isolation on children because it was “cruel and inhuman” and “counterproductive to the development of the child” in
determining whether the use of isolation was in violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual