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Utah Prisoner’s Administrative Confinement May be Unconstitutional

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a prisoner’s arbitrary placement in administrative segregation may constitute an “atypical and significant hardship on the prisoner in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.”

Utah prisoner Paul Richard Payne filed a U.S.C. § 1983 action that alleged 17 counts which the court summarized as follows: 1) that he was disciplined in violation of his due process rights; 2) the Parole Board violated his Fifth Amendment rights by drawing a negative inference from the refusal to discuss the murder of a fellow prisoner; 3) that his due process rights were violated as a result of the prison’s arbitrary classification system and his placement in administrative segregation; 4) that he was denied meaningful access to the courts; 5) that he is forced to live in inhumane conditions in violation of the Eighth Amendment; 6) that he is denied access to the press; 7) that his property was seized without due process; 8) that the prison grievance system is a fraud and a sham.

The Utah District Court dismissed the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e) (2) (b) (ii) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Payne appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal except for Claim Three.

In that portion, Payne alleged that the prison classification system is “defunct and void of due process.” He argued that he was arbitrarily placed in intensive management (IM) when he arrived at the prison in 2003, and has remained there ever since.

In IM, he is locked in his cell all but three hours per week and is denied access to books, magazines, television, radio, paper, art supplies, hobby/craft materials and all other means of entertainment. He also claims he has “zero access to jobs, programming or education, thus negating any form of rehabilitation.” Further elaborating his plight, Payne argued that in relation to other IM prisoners, his treatment is atypical and significant as most prisoners spend 45 days in IM while he has been there for three and a half years.

When a prisoner makes such an allegation, the District Court must conduct an evidentiary analysis to determine whether the duration of confinement was itself atypical and significant.

The matter was remanded to make evidentiary rulings on Claim Three. See: Payne v. Friel, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, 266 Fed.Appx. 724, 2008 WL 466884.

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Related legal case

Payne v. Friel