A convicted murderer says a move to solitary confinement is unlawful and it changed the terms of his death row sentence.
Jonathan Gentry was sentenced to death in a 1991 murder of a 12 year old Kitsap County girl. The state Supreme Court dismissed Gentry's petition. The court ruled Thursday that it was okay for corrections officials to move him into solitary confinement. Gentry was allowed to live in a special housing unit that gave him more priviledges. Budget cuts in 2009 caused his housing to close.
Gentry continued to argue his case claiming that solitary confinement was a constitutionally impermissible increase in the severity of his punishment. Under state regulations, after a year in solitary confinement, qualified inmates can be transferred to another unit where they are allowed contact with other inmates and family visits. Solitary confinement does not give inmates that priviledge.
In a 7-2 ruling, the high court decided that housing in the special unit is a privilege that can end through no fault of the prisoner. This includes budget cuts. They say all death row inmates start out in solitary confinement, being returned does not create a harsher sentence than they first faced.
The court says Gentry's petition should be heard in superior court to address several questions. They claim budget cuts don't explain why prisoner benefits, mainly family visits, should be cut as well.
Another question is whether moving prisoners back into solitary confinement is a violation of the sentencing terms. This affects all death row inmates.
Gentry is among seven prisoners on death row at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Gentry has been on death row longer than any other current death row inmate.
For a list of all death row inmates, WA Department of Corrections.
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