In Historic Settlement, CA Dramatically Changes Its Solitary Confinement Practices

CA has long had a practice of putting gang affiliates in solitary confinement, not for any behavioral purposes, but to coerce people to inform on their gang-mates. Back in 2012, a group of prisoners — Todd Ashker, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Luis Esquivel, George Franco, Richard Johnson, Paul Redd, Gabriel Reyes, George Ruiz, Danny Troxell, spanning several affiliations — sued to end the practice. Along the way they’ve also engaged in hunger strikes to call attention to the practice.

The suit just settled. Within short order, almost all of the prisoners who’ve been in long term solitary will be released into the general population. Solitary will be behaviorally based going forward, rather than affiliation based. For those put in solitary for behavioral issues, there will be a designated step-down process, and they’ll get significantly more out-of-cell time than currently. There will be new group housing alternative to solitary. And the prisoners will be a key part of ensuring compliance with this settlement.

The joint statement from the plaintiffs emphasizes the degree to which they won this settlement by working together.

This settlement represents a monumental victory for prisoners and an important step toward our goal of ending solitary confinement in California, and across the country. California’s agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action. This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters. Our movement rests on a foundation of unity: our Agreement to End Hostilities. It is our hope that this groundbreaking agreement to end the violence between the various ethnic groups in California prisons will inspire not only state prisoners, but also jail detainees, county prisoners and our communities on the street, to oppose ethnic and racial violence. From this foundation, the prisoners’ human rights movement is awakening the conscience of the nation to recognize that we are fellow human beings. As the recent statements of President Obama and of Justice Kennedy illustrate, the nation is turning against solitary confinement. We celebrate this victory while, at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle. We are fully committed to that effort, and invite you to join us.

Center for Constitutional Rights has more on the settlement here, including depositions from the plaintiffs dating to last year.

This is really great news. Let’s hope it serves as a model for reform elsewhere.

 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

2 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    this is very good news, indeed. maybe a precedent has been set.

    now the next step is to ensure that where solitary is used, the cell and related facilities are the same as those used on the wider prison population with regard to dimensional sizes, natural and artificial light, etc.

    isolation must be used only to seperate an inmate, not to inflict punishment. prison personnel must be forbidden from adding any punishment not already prescribed by the courts such as the “extra” punishment experienced by the angola three in louisiana and by political, e.g., terrorism, and mentally ill inmates all over the country.

  2. RUKidding says:

    I’m very happy with this decision and hope it does set a precedent/example for others to follow. It’s long past due to have this horrible torture stop.

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