Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law
California's cash flow to private prisons grows
As of 2014, there were 8,763 California inmates serving their sentences out-of-state in private prisons in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. Seven more private prisons operate within California, housing an additional 4,170 inmates, bringing the total amount of inmates who serve their time in a private, for-profit prison in California to one in ten.
In 2013, Governor Brown signed a three-year deal with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), of Nashville, Tennessee, to house inmates for $28.5 million per year. The same year, Brown signed two more contracts with a different company, the GEO Group, who subsequently signed a third contract in April, 2014. This brings GEO’s contract total to $150 million to house 1,400 inmates in low-security facilities across the state. GEO group has recently been the target of federal lawsuits and investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice over its treatment of prisoners in the state of Mississippi. Read More
Policy Brief calls for overhaul of LA County juvenile justice system
A policy brief from the Children’s Defense Fund-California, is calling for an overhaul of Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system.
The report, “Rising Up, Speaking Out: Youth Transforming Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Justice System,” uses the experiences of five young people who were incarcerated to offer recommendations for improving the conditions inside LA’s juvenile detention facilities.
One punitive practice the brief focuses on is LA County’s use of solitary confinement. Read More
Solitary confinement: Turning men into monsters (Jan. 2015)
Overwhelming evidence exists to suggest that since its inception, solitary confinement has done nothing but gradually destroy the bodies and minds of those confined. While it is easy to congratulate the ACLU and Arizona DOC for cooperating on this matter, we must not forget that solitary confinement is still being actively used all across the nation, and poses significant health risks. It is pivotal that we do not treat the issue of solitary confinement in the same manner that inmates have been abused for decades in Arizona and the entire U.S. placing the issue out of sight and out of mind, locking the door and throwing away the proverbial key.. Read More
Senator Mark Leno Proposes Limits on Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Facilities (Jan. 2015)
California State Senator Mark Leno introduced a bill that “would establish specific, limited circumstances in which state and county juvenile correctional facilities would be permitted to place someone in solitary confinement.” SB 124 will be read in the state’s policy committees this spring. Read More
Civil and Human Rights Groups to Eric Holder: No New Federal Supermax Prison at Thomson. (Jan. 2015)
On Friday, January 16, a group of advocates representing "a broad coalition of civil rights advocates, faith community leaders, human rights organizations, mental health practitioners, academics, lawyers, and former prisoners" sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversees the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The letter expresses concern over "the Bureau’s imminent plans to increase its use of solitary and other forms of isolated confinement with the opening of the new Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois." Read Full Letter
Solitary Confinement to end in Rikers Island. (Jan. 2015)
New York City will no longer use solitary confinement for all prisoners under the age of 21 in its prisons, announced Mayor de Blasio today. New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, “With these reforms, New York City has taken an important stand for basic human rights and reaffirmed its commitment to the safety of prisons, prison staff and our communities. An institution as profoundly broken as Rikers Island will require wholesale reform to transform into a humane environment that emphasizes treatment and rehabilitation over punishment and isolation, and these rules are a major step forward.” The decision was approved unanimously, 7-0, by the city’s Board of Correction, and will take effect in January 2016. Read More
The Marshall Project (Dec. 2014):
In 2014 one of the most controversial practices in criminal justice, solitary confinement, faced unprecedented challenges. As a result of legislation or lawsuits, ten states adopted 14 measures aimed at curtailing the use of solitary, abolishing solitary for juveniles or the mentally ill, improving conditions in segregated units, or gradually easing isolated inmates back into the general population. In 2014 the correctional officers’ union in Texas even called for doing away with solitary confinement on death row, stating in a letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that if inmates are stripped of all privileges they become harder to manage and more dangerous to corrections officers. 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.
"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."
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.
Download an informational brochure about California's widespread use of solitary segregation and its devastating effect on the spiritual, mental health, and physical well-being of prisoners.
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.
See Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity blog for more updates and events
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).
Read a copy of the Petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Read a copy of the Final UN Petition to Special Rapporteur on Torture.
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
March 21, 2012 Los Angeles Times, Anna Gorma, "UN asked to investigate solitary confinement as torture"
March 23, 2012 International Business Times, Jeremy White, "California Prison' Solitary Confinement Challenged In UN Petition"
March 21, 2012 San Francisco Bay View, Mary Ratcliff, "Prisons in solitary petition United Nations: 'CDCR destroys our minds, souls and spirits'"
March 21, 2012, Los Angeles Times, "California's torture chamber."
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).
"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 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)
"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)
San Francisco Bay View
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
California Prisons Focus
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Center for Constitutional Rights
Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity
Penal Reform International
Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants
Californians United for a Responsible Budget
Jails Action Coalition