But it is quite rare for prisoners to spend decades in isolation.
“We’ve only identified 12 prisoners outside of Texas who have spent more than 20 years in solitary confinement and who aren’t on death row,” said Easha Anand, one of the lawyers from the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center representing Mr. Hope. She acknowledged, however, that complete data are hard to come by.
Mr. Hope was sentenced to 80 years in 1990 for a series of armed robberies and landed in solitary after he escaped from prison in 1994. He eluded capture for about two months, during which he stole a car at knife point from an 83-year-old man and robbed four grocery stores.
In 2005, after 11 years in solitary confinement, a committee of prison security personnel concluded that Mr. Hope was no longer an “escape risk,” according to court papers. But prison authorities have kept him isolated.
Mr. Hope sued, losing in the lower courts. A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, ruled that “the sheer length of his confinement” does not, by itself, violate the Eighth Amendment.
In dissent, Judge Catharina Haynes wrote that she would have allowed his challenge to move forward given “the extreme length of Hope’s solitary confinement” and evidence that he had experienced “anxiety, depression, visual and auditory hallucinations,” and had “thoughts of suicide.”
Some members of the Supreme Court have been fiercely critical of solitary confinement.
“It drives men mad,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said in 2015 at Harvard Law School.