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Headshot of Katie Pleiss

Katie Pleiss

  • Hosted by Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center
  • Sponsored by Ropes & Gray LLP
  • Service location Washington, District of Columbia
  • Law school Harvard Law School
  • Issue area Criminal Justice Reform, Prisoners' Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2024
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Katie’s (she/her/hers) project will work with the MacArthur Justice Center’s Supreme Court and Appellate Program to litigate federal and state appeals arising at the intersection of solitary confinement and disability, serious mental illness, or youth, as a tactic to accelerate the abolition of solitary confinement for the nation’s most vulnerable incarcerated people.

Each year, over 120,000 incarcerated men, women, and children endure solitary confinement in prisons and jails in the United States. People who are held in solitary experience 23 hours per day in cages measuring under 8×10 feet without any meaningful human contact and very few, if any, opportunities to find fulfillment elsewhere; religion, exercise, rehabilitation programs, and entertainment are strictly limited, or prohibited entirely. Often, the most vulnerable incarcerated individuals—those with mental illness or a disability and juveniles—are placed in solitary. Isolation is so psychologically damaging that solitary confinement accounts for about 50% of prison suicides even though 6.3% of the prison population is locked in solitary confinement on a given day.

Fellowship Plans

Katie will bring claims in federal and state appellate courts challenging the use of solitary confinement on vulnerable groups, under the Eighth Amendment and its state constitutional analogues. Over the past few years, several federal circuit courts have begun to recognize that the toxic combination of mental illness and solitary confinement may raise constitutional concerns. Katie will build upon these precedents to obtain favorable results in these and other circuits for a broader class of vulnerable people. Katie will also produce educational materials so that incarcerated individuals and their loved ones can be prepared to effectively bring these claims pro se.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to serve vulnerable incarcerated people throughout the country. After spending time volunteering in prisons, I saw the horrific conditions firsthand, which catalyzed my desire to work on these issues.

Katie Pleiss /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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Mehwish Shaukat

Host: Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center

Sponsor: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

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Angela Larsen

Host: Ohio Justice & Policy Center

Sponsor: Jones Day Foundation, Procter & Gamble Co.

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