California solitary confinement reforms

October 14, 2015

After decades of isolating inmates in solitary confinement based solely on gang affiliation, California is on the verge of ending the practice as talks between state’s attorneys and prisoner representatives moved toward a resolution in the class-action lawsuit. Although court records show that no agreement from that discussion has yet been filed, several individuals on both sides of the litigation said one is imminent. The settlement is pending approval by a federal judge.

Isolation consisted of almost 23 hours inside windowless cells with very limited contact with people or even access to the phone, mail, the library or the commissary. While the practice persisted across the state, the Pelican Bay facility in northern California allegedly isolated the most prisoners. In some cases, inmates protested by going on hunger strikes. Some of these inmates will move into a high-security unit without isolation and have the opportunity for interaction with others along with additional inmate programs. Prisons will now base sentencing to solitary confinement on specific actions instead of gang affiliation.

And the practice was not restricted to just a few inmates. In 2012, at the time of the case filing, more than 500 prisoners had been in isolation for more than a decade while nearly 80 men had been there for more than two decades. That was just at Pelican Bay with other inmates across the state facing similar sanctions.

The philosophy behind segregation was to minimize prison violence and gang associations. However, psychiatrists testified that the amount of isolation was mentally damaging to inmates. A United Nations representative labeled the amount of isolation as approaching levels of torture. The basis of the lawsuit claimed that the practice was in violation of the Eighth Amendment, which protects individuals against cruel and unusual punishments. Another key aspect of the case was the denial of inmates to due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The courts have determined that the indiscriminate use of solitary confinement for inmates is a basic human rights violation. Additional human rights violations also exist in prisons. If you believe that your rights were violated when you were incarcerated, call our attorneys today.


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