Title

Rolando Ruiz v. Texas: Assessing the Psychological Impacts of Extended Solitary Confinement on Death Row Inmates

Faculty Sponsor

Amanda Zelechoski

College

Arts and Sciences

Department/Program

Psychology

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-3-2018

Abstract

The 2017 Supreme Court case Rolando Ruiz v. Texas brought the debate surrounding solitary confinement and death row conditions to the fore, in Ruiz's appeal for a stay of execution so that the Court may further consider his case. Awaiting execution in solitary confinement for 22 years, Rolando Ruiz suffered psychological symptoms characteristic of extended solitary confinement and threat of execution, including depression, suicidal thoughts, and hallucinations. While some research is critical of these effects and no two inmates' experiences are the same, many recent studies suggest that the negative conditions of solitary confinement, like almost-constant isolation and prevention of contact with others, can have profound psychological effects on a person over long periods of time, particularly with the added stressor of an impending execution. Inmates with and without mental illness can experience decreased concentration, violent fantasies, anxiety, depression, paranoia, and more (Cockrell, 2013) in solitary confinement. Some inmates awaiting execution in solitary might even dismiss their appeals, bringing about their execution faster to end their lives in death row isolation (Johnson, McGunigall-Smith, Miller, & Rose, 2014). Enlightened by psychological research of these threats to inmates' psychological health, this Amicus Brief argues in favor of Ruiz and future appellants whose extended solitary confinement has negatively affected them. This Brief supports Ruiz's appeal for a stay of execution and subsequent review of his case in the hopes that the Supreme Court takes into account current psychological research to assess the constitutionality of extended stays in solitary confinement on death row.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Zoe Fischer is a sophomore psychology and professional writing double major from Joliet, Illinois. She is also a Christ College scholar, as well as a lover of reading, writing, and research projects like the one above. Zoe hopes to pursue further education in graduate school, where she will continue studying and working with prison systems, inmate rights, race, and gender issues among other meaningful projects.

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