Incarcerated Individuals

Setting Precedent for Solitary

Imagine spending 23 hours locked in a small room, completely void of human interaction.
Now, imagine living this every day for 25 years.
What sounds like a plot from a horror film was a reality for Patrick Proctor, who as of 2019 had served the second-longest solitary confinement tenure in the history of the New York State justice system.

A Long Road

In 1989, Proctor was sentenced to 32-years-to-life in prison for second degree murder. Following an attempted escape from Shawangunk Correctional Facility in 1994, he was sentenced to nine years of disciplinary special housing unit (SHU) confinement. Proctor was housed alone for the entire time.

Upon review in 2003, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) committee at the facility in which Proctor was being held recommended and later ruled that he would be retained in SHU under administrative segregation based on past behavior. Unlike other forms of facility segregation, the termination of solitary confinement under administrative segregation is entirely dependent on DOCCS opinion.

man in orange jumpsuit getting handcuffed
Over the next few years, Proctor filed two pro se complaints against the New York State DOCCS for keeping him in solitary confinement without his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law. Both complaints were dismissed.

According to a study by researchers at Yale Law School and the Association of State Correctional Administrators, roughly half of the estimated 80,000 U.S. inmates who are in solitary confinement are serving under the terms of administrative segregation. Administrative segregation is one of two common types of solitary confinement used today, but unlike disciplinary segregation which is fixed to a specific period of time, the terms of administrative segregation are often indefinite. Proctor is one of tens of thousands of inmates who have fallen victim to the sentence’s subjective, sometimes biased nature.

Recognizing the opportunity to defend Proctor’s constitutional rights and move the law in the right direction, Kirkland took the case on in 2011 and successfully reinstated his claims after a victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Types of Solitary
Assigned to Prisoners

Uncovering Injustice

DOCCS requires that the regular, “meaningful” reviews of inmates in administrative segregation should factor in changes in behavior and attitude over time. In Proctor’s case, for more than 20 years, the main evidence cited to extend his solitary confinement centered on the original reasons that he was condemned in 1994. The DOCCS committee was turning a blind eye to the fact that Proctor had gone years at a time without a disciplinary infraction.

“They were quite literally copying and pasting rationale every 60 days [during the mandated review period],” explained Los Angeles litigation associate Saghar Esfandiarifard, one of 21 Kirkland attorneys who worked on Proctor’s case over nearly a decade.

In 2017, Kirkland achieved another win at the Second Circuit after meticulously building a case to show the arbitrary and retaliatory nature of the New York State DOCCS’s decisions to keep Proctor in solitary confinement without due process of law.

“At one point, one of the judges said something to the effect of, ‘This guy doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting out because the process is closed to him,’” Esfandiarifard recalled.

Kirkland’s Commitment

by the numbers
clock icon6442 pro bono hours
multiple people icon21 attorneys
calendar icon9years on the case

Trailblazing Victory

The Second Circuit’s opinion set a precedent for solitary confinement law, introducing a three-part test to ensure that the inmate review process was meaningful and impartial, as required by the U.S. Constitution. The win was considered a significant victory within the prisoners’ rights community, and so far has been cited 98 times, including by other prisoner plaintiffs hoping to obtain release in situations similar to Proctor’s.
Immediately following Kirkland’s historic win at the Second Circuit, the team began preparing Proctor’s case for trial, making countless trips to the Upstate New York facilities where Proctor was being held. The Kirkland team would spend entire days on the other side of cell bars, with only rubber pens and paper in hand due to security protocol.
One week before a jury trial on remand in 2019, Kirkland reached a settlement with the Attorney General of the State of New York to end Proctor’s solitary confinement and enroll him into a newly created “Step-Down” program that allowed for his successful reintegration after decades of confinement. The agreement addressed both of Proctor’s key priorities: preventing any further violations of his constitutional rights, and providing a significant monetary recovery, something not characteristic of similar civil cases.

He was just excited to be able to shake my hand. It was special to realize what that small gesture marked for him.”
Eric Schlabs,
IP Litigation Associate

Eric Schlabs, a New York IP litigation associate who joined the case in 2018, noted that it was “astonishing” how much progress Proctor had made within the first few weeks of engaging in the Step-Down program. Proctor had even used a significant portion of his settlement money to further his education by pursuing a paralegal course.
Proctor’s case is an example of impact litigation in every sense, having changed the course of one man’s life while simultaneously laying the foundation for systematic reform that will positively affect the lives of thousands of others.
“I was lucky enough to travel back Upstate to have Patrick sign the final settlement,” said Schlabs. “It was the first time that he had been able to sit in a room with his attorneys basically unsupervised. He was just excited to be able to shake my hand. It was special to realize what that small gesture marked for him.”

Patrick Proctor’s Journey to Justice


Sentenced to 32-years-to-life in prison for second degree murder


Attempted escape from Shawagunk Correctional Facility; sentenced to nine years of disciplinary special housing unit (SHU) confinement


Retained in SHU under administrative segregation

2005 & 2009

Filed pro se complaints against DOCCS asserting Fourteenth Amendment violations; both complaints dismissed


Claims reinstated after Second Circuit victory


Second victory at Second Circuit; court introduces new three-part test for inmate review process


Settlement with New York State Attorney General; end of solitary confinement and entry into “Step-Down” program

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