Solitary Confinement

The ACLU of North Carolina represented four people who had spent years locked in solitary confinement in North Carolina prisons in a class-action lawsuit alleging that the practice imposed cruel or unusual punishment in violation of the state constitution.

Approximately 3,000 people were being held in some form of solitary confinement in North Carolina as of July 2019, hundreds for periods of months or years. Solitary confinement is a cruel and unnecessary practice that destroys people’s mental health, degrades their human dignity, and makes prison conditions all the more dangerous, and should only be used as a last resort for the shortest duration possible.

One of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, Rocky Dewalt, suffers from several mental health disorders and routinely experiences anxiety, depression, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts. He had been held in solitary confinement for more than 12 years. Another plaintiff, Robert Parham, is a wheelchair-bound 58-year-old with a long history of mental and physical health problems. He had spent nearly a decade in solitary confinement. The third, Anthony McGee, had lived in solitary confinement since April 2018 and attempted suicide several times to escape his near-constant psychological pain. The fourth, Shawn Bonnett, had been placed back in solitary for non-violent rules infractions after previously spending nearly a decade in solitary confinement.

Unfortunately, the trial court denied the plaintiffs' motion for class certification, and the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed, bringing the case to an end. The ACLU of North Carolina will continue advocating to bring an end to this government-sanctioned torture. 


Daniel Siegel, Irena Como, Kristi Graunke

Date filed

October 15, 2019


N.C. Supreme Court



Case number

19 CVS 14089