(Reuters) - A federal appeals court said Pennsylvania cannot continue to house prison inmates in solitary confinement on death row after their death sentences had been vacated, without meaningful reviews of whether such confinement remained necessary.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said the inmates had a due process right under the U.S. Constitution to avoid continued solitary confinement, unless the state could justify it for penological purposes and did not reflexively impose it.
"Inmates in solitary confinement on death row without active death sentences face the perils of extreme isolation and are at risk of erroneous deprivation of their liberty," Circuit Judge Theodore McKee wrote for a three-judge panel.
"Accordingly, they have a clearly established due process right under the Fourteenth Amendment to avoid unnecessary and unexamined solitary confinement on death row," he said.
The appeals court nonetheless said prison officials who had been sued over the confinement conditions were entitled to qualified immunity, because they were not on notice that the policy was suspect.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)