Lawyers for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, have asked a judge to lift certain prison restrictions, claiming they are too severe and prevent him from properly preparing for trial.
A motion filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Boston claims that the “Special Administrative Measures," which bar him from speaking with other inmates or the outside world unless it is directly related to his defense, are too harsh.
The measures were imposed to keep the terror suspect from inciting or triggering other attacks.
“The restrictions on Mr. Tsarnaev leave him in nearly total isolation,” defense attorneys said in the motion. “He is confined to his cell except for legal visits and very limited access to a small outdoor enclosure, on weekdays, weather permitting. The purported basis for these conditions lies in the crimes he is alleged to have committed prior to arrest, not any behavior during his confinement.”
Additional restrictions Tsarnaev faces include no cellmate, no television or radio, and no praying with other inmates.
“The negative effects of isolation on detainees are well-documented. Indeed, the United Nations identifies long-term solitary confinement as a form of torture,” the motion continues.
Tsarnaev is facing charges for using a weapon of mass destruction, bombing a place of public use, carjacking, conspiracy and firearms violations that could bring the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
According to James Alan Fox, Ph.D. a professor of Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University, solitary confinement can have detrimental effects on a prisoner's psychological state, but in cases of high-profile criminals, it is often a necessary safety precaution.
"The effects are severe in terms of sensory deprivation. It is a fact that it sometimes leads to psychological breakdowns, if not suicide," said Fox. "But we don’t incarcerate people so that others will attack them. We have a moral obligation to protect him from other inmates."
"People may silently, or sometimes not so silently, root for certain inmates to be injured by others or by their own hand. Obviously that's not appropriate for society. Deprivation of liberty is the punishment, not violence," he said.
It's unlikely that the restrictions on Tsarnaev would prevent him from being fit to stand trial, according to Fox.
"All that really means is you're able to understand what's going on around you, and assist your council in your defense," he said. "It doesn’t have to mean that you’re psychologically well."