Arthur Johnson freed: 36 years in solitary confinement is enough for inmate

Arthur Johnson freed: 36 years in solitary confinement is enough for inmate
Arthur Johnson freed: 36 years in solitary confinement is enough for inmate

A federal judge in Harrisburg has ordered the state prison system to release Arthur Johnson from solitary confinement, where he has spent the past 36 years.

U.S. Middle District Judge Christopher Conner gave prison officials and lawyers for 64-year-old Arthur Johnson a week to develop a plan for mental health monitoring and to continually increase contact with other inmates and visitors. He set a target of 90 days to complete the transition after being transferred to an appropriate facility.

“It is difficult to conjure up a more compelling case for reintegration to the general prison population,” Conner wrote. “After 36 years of isolation, Mr. Johnson deserves the opportunity to shake hands with someone other than his attorneys.”

Arthur Johnson made several escape attempts after being convicted of the 1970 murder of a man during a street fight in Philadelphia, but officials describe him as having been a model prisoner for the past 25 years.

Conner said that during an injunction hearing in July, Johnson said his prolonged isolation has caused sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, obsession behavior, anger, loss of concentration and despair.

Johnson’s 7-by-10-foot cell, containing a TV, radio, bed, desk and toilet at the prison in Frackville, about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia, is illuminated at all hours. He gets one hour in a small caged-in area of the prison yard five days a week and is taken to showers in handcuffs three times a week.

All of his family members are dead, and he has had no physical contact with family or friends in 36 years, the judge wrote.

Johnson was cited for misconduct at least 90 times early during his incarceration and then tried to escape in 1979, 1984 and 1987. The December 1979 escape attempt, at a state prison in Pittsburgh, involved binding, gagging and locking a prison guard in a cell, and Johnson was found with two loaded zip guns, Conner noted.

“To confine an inmate to isolation indefinitely, absent a tenable threat, cannot be justified under the guise of institutional security,” the judge wrote.

Over the past 25 years, Johnson has received only one misconduct citation, for having a multivitamin in his cell.

“I behave every way that they told me I was (supposed) to behave, and it really doesn’t mean nothing at all,” Johnson testified in July, Conner wrote.

Johnson said he was reluctant to complain about his mental health because, he told the judge, he was “brought up not to complain.”

A spokeswoman for the Corrections Department said the matter was under review, and declined comment.

Wire Services

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  1. This is so inhumane. People will up rise up and cry out for the treatment of animals but we turn a blind eye to this type of depravity. We all pay a price when injustices like this continue. #Accountabilitymatters

  2. Anyone seen Shawshank redemption? Isolation ruins you. Poor guy, he deserves human contact, a chance at a normal life with blue skies and a terrible job. You can only pray he’ll be able to recover from being so mentally screwed from all these years in captivity that he’ll hopefully eventually halfway adjust to normal life. Prison is not rehabilitation.

  3. The poor regardless of race never get a shot at a decent life.
    And it all begins in early education. This society is caught in a spiraling whirlpool of zero compassion to people born in poverty. We would rather send jobs overseas than give a poor person any shot at all.

  4. This society will never give a person born into poverty a decent shot.
    From early education to sending jobs overseas. People in poverty are given three options, substance abuse, violence, and the lottery. That’s society’s dogma for the poor.

  5. The US detention system is not built around rehabilitation, it’s merely there to babysit for only as long as they have to. The Justice system, the Presidential candidates, the economy, the the the etc etc etc. WE HAVE NO ONE TO BLAME BUT OURSELVES. It’s time for American’s to wake up and stop drinking the Kool-Aid. If we dont do something soon our country is going to end up driving itself into the ground.

  6. Cruel and unusual punishment, a good example of how our judicial and correctional system failed to protect the constitutional rights of a citizen. In addition, this amounts to a violation of human rights. Why, I ask myself, is no official being made responsible for this gross violation.

  7. i’m nottt saying it’s right, but…

    he was cited for misconduct NINETY times.

    and then tried to escape three times – during the first of which, he bound and gagged and locked an officer in a cell…

    he was obviously determined to escape, and the facility didn’t know what else they could do…

    again, i’m not saying it’s right…

  8. It will be interesting to see what will happen. I do feel he will need more than 90 days to reintegrate into society. Maybe a more gradual release like a reintegration into general population at the institution then intensive supervision at a community correctional facility slowly moving towards full release.
    This way there is less shock to the offender.

    Just my 2 cents though

  9. Solitary confinement for long stretches of time, not to mention 37 years, is a violation of prison accreditation standards. How this prison was able to get away with it is mind boggling. I sense there is something more to this that we may never know.

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