In 1996, Richard Grissom, an inmate at the Kansas Department of Corrections, was placed in solitary confinement by prison officials following allegations that he was trafficking drugs. But criminal charges were never brought, nor a disciplinary report ever filed. Meanwhile, Grissom remained in solitary confinement for twenty years. Officials reviewed their determination for the first 25 months of Grissom’s confinement, but these reviews lasted only one to two minutes and always reached the same result: “Placement facts still apply”.
During this period, Grissom was locked in an eight-by–fourteen-feet cell containing only a solid concrete bed with a two-inch mattress for over twenty-three hours a day. The solitary cell was designed to maximize sensory deprivation and was sealed by a solid metal door that ensured no sound could enter or exit.
Grissom filed a complaint asserting that prison officials violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the prison officials were protected by qualified immunity. Without any controlling Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit precedent, the court held that there was no “clearly established law” that would have informed officials that holding Grissom in solitary confinement for twenty years without meaningful review violated his constitutional rights.
Read the full opinion