Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those  
            who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."       
- Franklin D. Roosevelt                            
photo    photo    photo


                                                         California Prisoners in Solitary Confinement


Thousands of men, women, and children have been driven to despair, madness, self-harm, or to suicide in solitary confinement in prisons in the United States -- all by a practice which, according to the U.S. government, is neither cruel, inhumane, degrading, nor torturous. (Read More)

Solitary confinement is cruel and all too usual. Why is it only getting worse?

Across the US, it is estimated that nearly 80,000 people are held in long-term isolation ... The breathlessness was overwhelming. Standing in that small, dark cell, surrounded by nothing but three concrete walls, a dank toilet, a small sink, a thin mattress, a concrete slab and a perforated metal door that barely let any air in, the oppressive claustrophobia was hard to control. (Read More)
CDCR SHU Step Down Program is dysfunctional. 
10-08-14  SF Bay View

On Sept. 16, 2014, prisoner Jabari Scott was transferred from solitary confinement in Corcoran State Prison where he was in Step 2 of CDCR's "step down" program to step 3 in Tehachapi Prison. This is supposed to be an improvement in conditions of detention. Instead, Mr. Scott reports that Tehachapi "the prison is so unfit in so many ways that it could never ever be a functional Step 3 .. [We have ] no opportunities, programming [or] amenities ... [Upon being transferred my] TV, radio, thermals, books, cup and pictures were confiscated ... They took my Bible, dictionary and thesaurus, because they were without the original covers ... They are not allowing us to have any containers for canteen ... The clothing roll consists of one pair of boxers, one t-shirt, one pair of socks, one towel. The t-shirt and boxers are all badly used, so that you can see the excreta of the previous owners and all the sizes are kid sizes – so small and tight-fitting that they are disrespectful, undignified, dehumanizing, demoralizing ... One would never want to be caught wearing them outside of one’s cell ... They issue you a small paper Dixie cup and a small, thin plastic picnic spoon that you use to drink and eat with for the duration of your stay here ... They issue you a small yellow rag, and once a week you have to push your rag under your door on the ground, and an officer will come by  [to keep your cell clean] and pour disinfectant on your rag. You have to sop up as much disinfectant as you can that was on the ground and then squeeze it into a milk carton to preserve it as long as possible ..." Of course, Mr. Scott remains in solitary confinement. This is the "step down" program CDCR proudly claims shows that it treats prisoners in solitary confinement fairly and humanely. Select this link to read Mr. Scott's account ...

Amnesty International urges US Secretary of State John Kerry to extend an invite to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, to carry out a fact-finding visit to US super-maximum security prisons. To sign this petition click here.  Amnesty International has also prepared a report on the current use of solitary confinement in the U.S. Prison system.  To read the report click here. 

Rikers Island Prison - Photo NY Times

Solitary Confinement to End for Youngest at Rikers Island New York Times - 9/28/14


Voices from SHU

"I've been sentenced to solitary confinement with no disciplinary infraction indeterminately.  I'm being deprived human contact with my wife and daughter, deprived of my right to an appliance (T.V./Radio), and all the oppression that comes with being in Calipatria State Prison's ASU.  Rather than being rehabilitated we are being suppressed and being forced to mental anguish."
        -  Robbie Riva, CDC# T-49359 (Calipatria State Prison ASU)

"I have been in SHU isolation for 35 years.  I would not treat my worst enemy in such a way as I have been placed in isolation this long.  To torture another human being with these horrific conditions should be contrary to what consists of a healthy society."
- Phil Fortman, CDC# B-03557 (Pelican Bay State Prison SHU)

"I have been housed in isolation for 23 years.  Almost daily now I wake up to a feeling of dread.  Over the past 5 years I have become convinced that death has to be better than this.  This is the kind of hate that threatens to destroy us all.  That makes a mockery of democracy.  Isolation is horrible and inhumane.  It crushes your humanity and faith."
- Michael Reed Dorrough, CDC# D-83611 (Corcoran State Prison)


"It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.  A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones."
Nelson Mandela

Approximately 80,000 inmates are held in some form of solitary confinement (SHU, ASU, Ad-Seg, Control Unit) across 44 States. 11,000 of these inmates are held in California State prisons, the vast majority of them are people of color.

On May 23, 2011, the United States Supreme Court rendered a decision indicating that the California Prison System was subjecting inmates to Cruel and Unusual Punishment by presiding over "a prison system so overcrowded that it cannot provide anything close to adequate mental or medical health care to its 147,000 inmates," in prisons designed to house just under 80,000 inmates.

On March 20, 2012, approximately 400 California prisoners in segregation petitioned the United Nations (UN) to conduct an onsite investigation of the conditions of their imprisonment and issue a decision on whether these conditions violate international law, including the UN Convention Against Torture. The petitions have been submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.


Solitary Confinement Reform
What is the strategy for CA Prisoners, families, and other stakeholders going forward in regards to solitary confinement in the state of California.  Should gang validation as basis for solitary confinement be removed? How can Governor Brown and his department of Corrections creatively create gang peace?       (new page coming soon)

  • September 24, 2014 CDCR Proposes to "Strip-Search" Some Prison Visitors
    CDCR has issued a proposed "emergency" regulation to begin "strip-searching" prison visitors based on reactions of canines or ion scanners. The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law has submitted comments strongly opposing the proposed regulation on policy and constitutional grounds. Select this link to view or download our letter to CDCR. We believe the Sept 23 deadline to submit comments is illegal. There is no justifiable "emergency" to avoid the normal 30-day comment period. We therefore urge individuals and organizations to review our comments and send similar letters to CDCR regarding the proposed "strip-search" regulations. Our letter provides the names and email address to whom comments should be addressed.
  • August 29, 2014 - California Public Records Act Case - CDCR files its response to our complaint.  (download here)
  • August 12, 2014 -The four original hunger strikers at Pelican Bay send the following letter addressed to all members of the CA Senate and Assembly regarding Sen. Loni Hancock's SB 892 re: solitary confinement. This letter from the four original hunger strikers includes rational and cogent arguments regarding the substantial deficiency in Sen. Hancock's bill in its current form (read and download their letter here) .
  • July 8, 2014 - The California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), and other groups will conduct a commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the 2013 hunger strike initiated by prisoners in solitary confinement. The groups will announce the filing of a lawsuit charging Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and CDCR of illegally refusing to publicly disclose information, data and studies regarding its solitary confinement rules, policies, and practices (download press release). The lawsuit will be brought under the Public Records Act in order to achieve greater transparency regarding the hunger strike and will be filed on July 8, 2014 in the Superior Court of Sacramento (download complaint). The 2013 hunger strike was joined by thousands of prisoners in and outside California and resulted in retaliatory actions being taken against those who participated in the hunger strike (media coverage).
  • May 19, 2014 -  The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional law, California Families Against Solitary Confinement and numerous other groups and individuals involved with prison reform issues have sent a letter to the California Assembly Appropriations Committee members supporting AB 1652 (Ammiano). If enacted AB 1652 would bring to an end California's policy of keeping about 2,500 prisoners in solitary confinement for 6-25 years for alleged gang membership with no accompanying wrong doing. Select here to view/download copy of the AB 1652 letter. Select here if you wish to add your organization or name and title to the SB 892 letter. Prison reform groups have also sent a letter to the California Senate Appropriations Committee members opposing SB 892 (Hancock) in its present form. If enacted SB 892 would insert into state law the policy of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement for many years for alleged gang membership with no accompanying wrong doing. Select here to view/download copy of the SB 892 letter. Select here if you wish to add your organization or name and title to the SB 892 letter.  Family members, advocates and organizations involved in solitary confinement issues should be in touch with Appropriations Committee members, their staff and Committee staff Tuesday-Thursday this week. A list of the key members may be view/downloaded by clicking here.
  • April 25, 2014 - The Center, together with prominent statewide prison reform advocates, community organizations, faith-based and labor leaders, comment on Sen. Hancock's S.B. 892. Read our letter here. Please contact us to sign on to our letter to CA legislators. Read our proposed amendments to S.B. 892 here. Read a recommended bill harmonizing Assemblyman Ammiano's A.B. 1652 and the positive provisions of S.B. 892 here
  • CHRCL responds to CDCR regarding new STG Proposed Regulations (read more).
  • March 17, 2014 - Senator Loni Hancock today introduced new legislation to revise and reform solitary confinement conditions and procedures. (read more)
Celebrities join prison
                  hunger strikers
  • Read poems by prisoners in solitary confinement speaking of their experience.



Volunteer at CHRCL

Want to get involved in social justice? Interested in law? Want to fight for the rights of prisoners?

Click here to find out more about volunteer or internship opportunities with our organization.

Donate to CHRCL

Click here to support our fight to uphold human rights. We fight in struggle and solidarity.

Sign the Petition

Click here to sign the California Prison Focus online petition protesting California Prison System's human rights violation.

Hunger Strike

In July 2011 thousands of California prisoners in solitary segregation started a non-violent hunger strike to protest the "torture" they were experiencing as a result of the conditions of their confinement.


ee Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity blog for more updates and events

United Nations Petition on behalf of California prisoners in isolated segregation

In March 2011 over 300 prisoners being held in solitary confinement in California prisons joined to present a petition to the United Nations regarding the brutal and inhumane conditions under which they are placed indefinitely (many for decades).

In the Petitions, that can be downloaded through the links above, the identity of some prisoners is omitted at their request. The United Nations Petitions also included the names of over 300 prisoners whose names are also redacted from the public petition versions.

Media regarding the prisoners' United Nations Petition

Information on the Effects on Mental and Physical Health

Fact Sheet: Psychological Effects of Solitary Confinements. Solitary Confinement. 2011

Andersen, H.S., Sestoft, D.D., Lillebaek, T.T., Gabrielson, G.G., Hemmingsen, R.R., & Kramp, P.P. (2000), "A Longitudinal Study of Prisoners on Remand: Psychiatric Prevalence, Incidence, and Psychopathology in Solitary vs. Non-solitary confinement." Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 102(1)

Fellner, Jamie. "A Corrections Quandry: Mental Illness and Prison Reform." Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Libertiies. 2006.

Metzner, Jeffrey and Fellner, Jamie. "Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: A Challenge for Medical Ethics." The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 38, no. 1 (2010).

Michel Foucault. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 1995.

Haney, Craig. "Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and "Supermax" Confinement." Crime and Delinquency 49, no. 1 (2003).

Bulman, Philip, Garcia, Marie and Hernon, Jolene. "Study raises questions about psychological effects of solitary confinement." National Institute of Justice no. 269 (2012).

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