Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 16 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 730 (2002)

Opinion of the Court

Among other findings, the DOJ report noted that ADOC's officers consistently failed to comply with the policy of immediately releasing any inmate from the hitching post who agrees to return to work. The DOJ concluded that the systematic use of the restraining bar in Alabama constituted improper corporal punishment. Ibid. Accordingly, the DOJ advised the ADOC to cease use of the hitching post in order to meet constitutional standards. The ADOC replied that it thought the post could permissibly be used " 'to preserve prison security and discipline.' " Ibid. In response, the DOJ informed the ADOC that, " '[a]lthough an emergency situation may warrant drastic action by corrections staff, our experts found that the "rail" is being used systematically as an improper punishment for relatively trivial offenses. Therefore, we have concluded that the use of the "rail" is without penological justification.' " Ibid. Although there is nothing in the record indicating that the DOJ's views were communicated to respondents, this exchange lends support to the view that reasonable officials in the ADOC should have realized that the use of the hitching post under the circumstances alleged by Hope violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The obvious cruelty inherent in this practice should have provided respondents with some notice that their alleged conduct violated Hope's constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Hope was treated in a way antithetical to human dignity—he was hitched to a post for an extended period of time in a position that was painful, and under circumstances that were both degrading and dangerous. This wanton treatment was not done of necessity, but as punishment for prior conduct. Even if there might once have been a question regarding the constitutionality of this practice, the Eleventh Circuit precedent of Gates and Ort, as well as the DOJ report condemning the practice, put a reasonable officer on notice that the use of the hitching


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