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WILKINSON, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF REHABILITATION AND CORRECTION, et al. v. AUSTIN et al., 545 U.S. ---

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WILKINSON, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF REHABILITATION AND CORRECTION, et al. v.
AUSTIN et al.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

No. 04-495.Argued March 30, 2005--Decided June 13, 2005

"Supermax" prisons are maximum security facilities with highly restrictive conditions, designed to segregate the most dangerous prisoners from the general prison population. Their use has increased in recent years, in part as a response to the rise in prison gangs and prison violence. Ohio opened its only Supermax facility, the Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), after a riot in one of its maximum security prisons. In the OSP almost every aspect of an inmate's life is controlled and monitored. Incarceration there is synonymous with extreme isolation. Opportunities for visitation are rare and are always conducted through glass walls. Inmates are deprived of almost any environmental or sensory stimuli and of almost all human contact. Placement at OSP is for an indefinite period, limited only by an inmate's sentence. Inmates otherwise eligible for parole lose their eligibility while incarcerated at OSP.

When OSP first became operational, no official policy governing placement there was in effect, and the procedures used to assign inmates to the facility were inconsistent and undefined, resulting in haphazard and erroneous placements. In an effort to establish guidelines for the selection and classification of OSP inmates, Ohio issued its Policy 111-07. Relevant here are two versions of the policy: the "Old Policy" and the "New Policy." Because assignment problems persisted after the Old Policy took effect, Ohio promulgated the New Policy to provide more guidance regarding the factors to be considered in placement decisions and to afford inmates more procedural protection against erroneous placement. Under the New Policy, a prison official conducts a classification review either (1) upon entry into the prison system if the inmate was convicted of certain offenses, e.g., organized crime, or (2) during the incarceration if the inmate engages in specified conduct, e.g., leads a prison gang. The New Policy also provides for a three-tier review process after a recommendation that an inmate be placed in OSP. Among other things, the inmate must receive notice of the factual basis leading to consideration for OSP placement and a fair opportunity for rebuttal at a hearing, although he may not call witnesses. In addition, the inmate is invited to submit objections prior to the final level of review. Although a subsequent reviewer may overturn an affirmative recommendation for OSP placement at any level, the reverse is not true; if one reviewer declines to recommend OSP placement, the process terminates. Ohio also provides for a placement review within 30 days of an inmate's initial assignment to OSP, and annual review thereafter.


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