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Hutto v. Finney - Background, The Violations Continue, Some Justices Back Petitioner, Supreme Court Upholds Decision, Holt V. Sarver

petitioners amendments ithaca jackson


Terrell Don Hutto, et al.


Robert Finney, et al.

Petitioners' Claim

That confining prisoners to isolation cells for more than 30 days is not a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and that the Department of Corrections is exempt from paying the attorney fees of the defendant under the Eleventh Amendment.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioners

Garner L. Taylor, Jr.

Chief Lawyer for Respondents

Philip E. Kaplan

Justices for the Court

Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens (writing for the Court), Potter Stewart

Justices Dissenting

Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, Byron R. White


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

23 June 1978


Found that conditions in the Arkansas penal system violated the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments and therefore constituted cruel and unusual punishment.


The ruling distinguished between acceptable and unacceptable punitive measures in prison and was one of the first successful prisoner lawsuits against a correctional system. The Court determined that isolation for a duration less than 30 days may be constitutional. However, solitary confinement coupled with the prison's living conditions did constitute cruel and unusual punishment, because it jeopardized the health and safety of the inmates.

Related Cases

  • Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349 (1910).
  • Holt v. Sarver, (1970).
  • Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).


Jackson, Bruce. Killing Time: Life in the Arkansas Penitentiary. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977.

Further Readings

  • Biskupic, Joan and Elder Witt. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court, 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1996.
  • Call, Jack E. "The Supreme Court and Prisoners' Rights." Federal Probation, March 1995, p. 36.
  • Jackson, Bruce. Killing Time. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977.
In the Matter of Karen Ann Quinlan: 1975 - Accepted Standards Vs. Right To Die, Decision Is Appealed, Suggestions For Further Reading [next] [back] Hutchinson v. Proxmire - Significance, The District Court's Ruling, The Supreme Court Steps In, Speech Or Debate Clause

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