Final approval of the deal by U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III comes five months after the ACLU and the state Department of Corrections hashed out a tentative accord over easing restrictions for those facing capital punishment.
Those inmates, who had been spending 22 hours out of every day alone in their 8-by-12-foot cells will now be able to socialize, including with one another, and will have wider contacts with the outside world.
Under the final settlement sanctioned by Jones, those prisoners will receive at least 42 ½ hours of out-of-cell activity weekly, including exercise time in the prison yard. They will have access to phones daily and be allowed contact visits with family, lawyers and religious advisors.
The inmates won’t be routinely shackled any more and will be allowed to hold prison jobs. Those affected by the previous de facto solitary confinement practices will be provided “resocialization assistance.” The prisoners still will be housed separately from the general population in Capital Case Units in the prisons.
The ACLU and the Abolitionist Law Center filed the civil rights suit against the Corrections Department in 2018, claiming the state prison system was violating the constitutional protections of its 156 death row inmates, including their rights against cruel and unusual punishment and to due process of law.
The prisoners named as plaintiffs in that suit are Anthony Reid, Ricardo Natividad, Mark Spotz, Ronald Gibson and Jermont Cox.
Reid killed two men in Philadelphia in 1989. Natividad committed a 1996 murder in Schuylkill County. Spotz is on death row as the result of a 1995 killing spree in Clearfield, Schuylkill, Cumberland and York counties. The victims included Spotz’s brother and three women he encountered at random.
Gibson fatally shot two people, including an off-duty police officer, at a Philadelphia bar.
Cox was sentenced to death for a 1995 slaying in Philadelphia. Last year, the state Supreme Court rejected a petition filed in Cox’s name urging it to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania.
Jones called the prior restrictions on the death row inmates “draconian” in his order approving the settlement. He also approved an agreement for the state to pay $507,500 for the legal services the prisoners received.
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