Individuals with autism who end up embroiled in the criminal justice system often find themselves not only brutalized by police because of law enforcement’s failure to recognize and understand autism, but also severely punished if they end up in prison. Some are even re-victimized because of mental health illnesses that result from traumatizing experiences associated with their incarceration. For many, particularly children, the penchant to place incarcerated individuals with autism in solitary confinement—either for their own safety or as punishment for perceived misbehavior—raises concerns under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution and may amount to a breach of the international prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. This provision of the Eighth Amendment embodies the “broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency.” Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 579 (CA 1968). In Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government has an obligation to provide medical care for incarcerated individuals. The Supreme Court noted that the denial of such care could result in pain, suffering, torture, or death.