Solitary Confinement, CDCR get Slammed at Legislative Hearings

Press release from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Sacramento—hundreds of people from across the state packed two hearing rooms of both public safety committees of the  state legislature today to represent the interests of California State prisoners.

Despite attempts by the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) to insure the public that they are acting with prudence to change people’s gang validations, and correct injustices and general inhumane conditions in prison Security Housing Units, testimony from experts and the public continued to unmask the basic torture and impunity of the CDCR’s policies in maintaining prolonged isolation and prisons that fundamentally violate human rights.

While the CDCR claimed that new regulations would change their inhumane system, panelists, the public, and the legislators themselves seemed unconvinced. Testimony charged that the CDCR’s changes to its regulations did not end California’s use of indefinite extreme isolation; violations of basic human rights by the state’s solitary confinement units will not change by its new policies; and that the controversial use of debriefing—or informing on other prisoners—was still the primary way a prisoner could get out of indefinite solitary confinement.

Assemblyperson Tom Ammiano cut off the CDCR several times during their presentations, saying they were “over answering” simple questions.  Ammiano said its regulations “missed the point,” and said that CDCR’s so-called changes were counterintuitive in regulating a system that was predicated on the use of solitary.

Professor Craig Haney, a leading expert on the use of solitary, testified that “the United States’ prison system is an outlier compared to the rest of the world. California is an outlier compared to the rest of the US.”  He said while much of the rest of the world has condemned solitary confinement as torture, California’s use of such an extreme form of the practice was unprecedented and shocking. California as an outlier continued to be echoed throughout the day.

In a statement released today by prisoners from the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Human Rights Movement who “have all lived for over 15 years locked 23 hours a day in small windowless cells, without ever being able to hug or touch our families, without ever seeing birds, trees or the outside world, with no programs or chance for parole,” they assert “California keeps us in these torturous conditions not because of any violence we have committed, but because it believes we are affiliated with a gang, often based on artwork or photos we possess, tattoos we have, literature we read, who we talk to or anonymous informants’ statements that we have no way of challenging.”

The prisoners also make clear that the “CDCR’s reform program widens the net of prisoners who can be labeled as gang affiliates and isolated based on that label. These unjust and ineffective policies are very expensive and have already cost our state millions of tax dollars which could be put to better use.”

The prisoners go on to say that “California is still unwilling to move to a real behavior based system where prisoners are given determinate terms in solitary after due process hearings at which they are found guilty of some serious misconduct, such as assault, murder, rape or drug dealing. Instead, these new policies widen the net of prisoners who can be labeled as gang affiliates and isolated based on that label. These unjust and ineffective policies are very expensive and have already cost our state millions of tax dollars which could be put to better use.”

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[And see photos on the Facebook page of Project WHAT, the children of incarcerated parents who spoke at the hearing and rally and lobbied afterward]

3 thoughts on “Solitary Confinement, CDCR get Slammed at Legislative Hearings

    • While I know that California has the most people in solitary confinement due to sheer numbers related to population and it bases placing inmates there on their gang affiliations, they are not alone. Here in Pennsylvania, we too have what is known as the restricted release list or RRL, where prisoners are placed on indefinite restricted housing which can only be undone by the secretary of corrections. People here literally spend decades in the RHU (restricted housing unit). Lifers can die there and others are often released directly to the street right from the “hole” straight to the public.
      The secretary of corrections is a cabinet position and it is appointed by the governor of the state. Your former head of corrections there was our former secretary of corrections, Dr. Jeffrey Beard. Whereas people there form alliances and stick together when they go on hunger strikes, people here tend to go on hunger strikes alone and are not supported by other inmates. If that begins to occur, inmates are quickly routed to other facilities and moved apart by separation statuses which were created long ago. Recently, we had a success on the release of Russell Maroon Shoatz from solitary confinement into population, but it was a long fought battle. He was in solitary confinement for 22+ years. There are many others sharing in this form of ultimate oppression.
      No one deserves to be in this environment for ANY length of time. It is cruel and unusual punishment. It is torture of the worst manner. I speak as an advocate and as the wife of a hunger striker who has been placed on the RRL. Not only did they do this to him, but they also banned me indefinitely from visiting him. They say visiting is a privilege and PA law supports them. They also refuse to tell me anything about his condition or status, saying only that they will notify me if he should perish, because I am next of kin. They deny him phone calls and disrupt our mail communication both ways. His latest hunger strike began on November 24th. I fear becoming a widow on a daily basis.
      This practice needs to be totally abolished. It was totally eliminated in the state of Missouri even for death row inmates with success. All people with a moral conscious everywhere need to stand up and speak out against this injustice to humanity wherever and whenever it occurs. The United States and every state that condones it should be deeply offended and ashamed. I applaud California in their lead and efforts in this desperate situation. You have my support and that of many others who are following what goes on out there. When you win, we will all win.

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