Supreme Court Denies Prisoner’s Exercise Claim

( – Inmates are generally permitted one hour of exercise every day. When one man didn’t receive that for three years, he took the state to court. The Supreme Court has now refused to hear his case.

On November 13, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against Michael Johson, a man who served time for home invasion, in a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections. The plaintiff sued the state for prohibiting him from receiving one hour of exercise each day from 2013 to 2016. Under Pontiac Correctional Center’s rules, guards could revoke exercise temporarily if an inmate violated the rules. Johnson, who suffers from a mental illness, received more than 70 citations from 2008 to August 2016 for his conduct.

Prison guards revoked Johnson’s privileges for disobeying the rules. The inmate sued, alleging the prison violated his Eighth Amendment rights that are supposed to protect him from cruel and unusual punishment. In March 2022, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Johnson. They declined to reconsider the case.

Johnson then appealed to the US Supreme Court, but the court’s conservative justices ruled against his appeal. The three Liberals, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and Elena Kagan, dissented.

Jackson authored the scathing dissent, saying the Pontiac Correctional Center placed Johnson in solitary confinement in horrible conditions. She explained that while he was in there, he spent almost his whole day in a cell with no windows and was about the size of a parking space. Not only was he in the tiny space, but the justice said it had poor ventilation, resulting in “unbearable heat and noxious odors.” Worse, the area was often caked with human feces, and Johnson was left to clean the cell with his bare hands because the prison did not provide free cleaning supplies.

Jackson went on to write that Johnson was only allowed to shower for about 10 minutes, once a week. On top of all that, officials denied his exercise. The punishment left him suicidal, and he hurt himself. She called the consequences of his “prolonged period of exercise deprivation […] predictably severe.”

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