Solitary Confinement Bill Passes Public Safety Committee, Could Mark End of Torturous Practice


Press Contact:     Isaac Ontiveros—510.517.6612
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Oakland—A bill designed to bring about reforms to the California’s internationally condemned use of indefinite solitary confinement, passed its first hurdle yesterday by a 4 to 2 vote (with one abstention) in the State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee. Assembly Member Tom Ammiano authored AB 1652 in response to the historic hunger strike last summer that included the participation of 30,000 prisoners in the majority of the California’s sprawling prison system.   Some of the strikers refused food for 60 days. The prisoners agreed to suspend their hunger strike on September 5, 2013, with the promise of legislative hearings on the use and conditions of solitary confinement in California’s prisons.

The bill could bring very significant changes to California’s use of solitary confinement.  AB1652 would prohibit the use of solitary except for 14 very serious offenses, and would set a cap on the solitary term to 5 years.   AB 1652 would effectively end the bitterly contested practice of “gang validation” that has led to thousands of prisoners serving indefinite sentences in solitary based merely on association with other prisoners.

According to the bill’s author, “The United States is an outlier in the world on the use of incarceration and solitary confinement, and California is an outlier in the United States and is the only state to use solitary confinement for indefinite terms where SHU [Security Housing Unit] terms are assigned for administrative reasons such as being in possession of artwork or books…

California’s SHUs do not meet international human rights standards regarding the treatment of incarcerated people. The conditions amounted to torture, and groups are challenging the constitutionality of the SHU. This bill is intended to limit the use of solitary confinement to people who have committed serious rule violations, and restore time credits for inmates currently serving time in the SHU on a non-rule violation assignment.”

“This bill responds to some of the core demands of the hunger strikers, namely that indefinite SHU status should be abolished,” said Donna Willmott, who worked on behalf of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition’s legislative working group to help California decision-makers take action on  solitary confinement.  “It is really important to recognize that the human rights struggle being waged by prisoners and their supporters are having an impact.  Given the horrendous violence of solitary confinement, we are eager to work with decision-makers to use this bill to get as many people out of solitary as we can, including making good-time credits retroactive for those who have suffered solitary based solely on accusation of gang membership and association.”

“Some of our loved ones have suffered in these inhumane conditions for 20 or 30 years or more,”  said Marie Levin, an activists with the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition whose brother Sitawa Jamaa was one of the lead representatives of the prisoner hunger strikers. “We will continue our fight to make sure AB 1652 can provide some relief to our families, and we will continue to fight until the torture of solitary confinement is a thing of the past.”

Emergency Response Alert: Stop Violations at Corcoran SHU!

Please check out this Emergency Response Alert about human rights violations by prison officials against prisoners in the Corcoran SHU.  And take the suggested actions:  email, write or call the prison officials and CDCr to protest.

Demand the end to destructive and retaliatory cell searches.

This link makes it very easy to take action!

Thank you from the Emergency Response Network and the Human Rights Pen Pal Program of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

[please click here or read page 2 of this post]

Submit Comments About STG/SDP Regulations by April 3, 2014

Dear Human Rights Activists,

We need your help. Can you write a quick email or fax a note? The California prison system’s Security Threat Group/Step Down Program (STG/SDP) is getting close to being implemented. These regulations govern placement into and release from the SHU (Secure Housing Units), California’s long-term solitary confinement cells. The STG/SDP policies will perpetuate California’s over use of torturous isolation.

We are soliciting your help to weigh in and speak out against these regulations. Please submit a comment and ask your friends, family, neighbors, pastor, school class, place of worship, and organizations to write also.

For a comment to have impact it must address some aspect of the proposed regulations. To help, we’ve made a FACT SHEET and LIST OF PROBLEMS with the STG/SDP regulations. (The footnote below gives a link and a partial index to the officially proposed regulations we’re commenting on 1) Take an issue or two -or more- and express your feelings, it doesn’t have to be long or fancy, but it does have to talk about the STG/SDP regulations.


Anyone may submit public comments (mail, fax, or email) regarding the proposed regulations. Submit comments to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation by mail at: CDCR, Regulation and Policy Management Branch, P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA 94283-0001; or by fax at (916) 324-6075; or by email at
If you send an email please cc:

The public comment period is open now; it closes April 3, 2014 at 5 PM.

In many respects the STG/SDP is worse than the current practice. The STG/ SDP program is based on the U.S. Bureau of Prisons model, subject of great criticism in 2012 by the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary,  Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights & Human Rights. California uses solitary confinement far and away more than any other government entity on the planet – the most absolute numbers and the highest percentage of prisoners in solitary. On any given day California, conservatively, has 11,000 adult prisoners in some form of isolation. 2

Thank you for everything you do.

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

footnotes below: Continue reading

Video of Legislative Hearing February 11, 2014

Click on the image below for the California Channel recording of the February 11 Joint Informational Hearing on CDCRs Proposed New Policies on Inmate Segregation by the Assembly and Senate Public Safety Committees, three-and-a-half-hour gavel to gavel coverage.

Hearing Video February 2014And audio is also available:

The following links are broadcast quality audio excerpts from the hearing. The public comments are particularly valuable.

Link to entire Feb. 11 legislative hearing audio:

PUBLIC COMMENT testimony amplified

Charles Carbone testimony:
Craig Haney testimony:
Anne Weills testimony:

Dolores Canales rally words:
Marie Levin rally words:
Misty Rojo rally words:
Steve Czifra rally words:

Hunger Strike at Tacoma ICE Detention Center

Turning the Tide Campaign

Twitter! Facebook!

Last Friday over 1200 detainees began a hunger strike inside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country.

Immediately their massive protest made national news. In retaliation they are being harassed, and we heard yesterday that more than 20 of them were placed in isolation, cut off from communication. 

Please support the detainees by sending e-mail to ICE here.

They’re striking for the most basic things: better food, better treatment and fairness. To bring it to light, they’re risking their own health inside the for-profit detention center owned and operated by the GEO Group.

In just the past two days we’ve seen an outpouring of support but the need more to stay safe and see their demands met.

We want to get over 1,000 signatures by tomorrow at 5pm. The wives of the hunger strikers are holding a rally outside the detention center in the morning and the hungers strikers are counting our support. 
Please help us by signing the petition and spreading the word. 

Thank you,

Maru Villalpando

P.S. Come support the hunger strikers at a rally Tuesday March 11th at 5pm at 1623 E. J Street, Tacoma Washington. Facebook invite here. 

Ammiano Assembly Bill Could Mark Profound Change in CA Solitary Confinement

California Assemblymember Tom Ammiano has proposed legislation that could significantly restrict how solitary confinement is used in California prisons. Assembly Bill 1652 comes after massive public pressure and expert testimony exposed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) feeble attempts to defend its notorious solitary confinement and gang management policies at a special hearing on Tuesday.

“Hundreds of prisoners have been sent to the Security Housing Unit (SHU) isolation cells for reasons that have nothing to do with crimes they have committed, and without adequate opportunity to challenge those assignments,” said Ammiano in a statement released this week. “Today, in public hearing, we heard the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) say it’s changing those practices, but the changes are not enough. I’ve seen the conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison, and agree with international groups like Amnesty International who say these deprivation conditions do not meet accepted human rights standards.”

Ammiano’s bill (AB1652) would put a 36-months cap on how long someone targeted as part of a “security threat group” could be kept in solitary confinement. Current CDCR practice allows for prisoners to be thrown into extreme isolation indefinitely. During Tuesday’s hearing, solitary confinement expert Prof. Craig Haney noted that most other countries in the world have abolished the use of indefinite solitary, upholding international human rights standards condemning it as torture. The proposed bill would also make prisoners held in solitary eligible to receive the “good time credits” all other prisoners are able to earn toward a reduced sentence.

“This could mark a very profound shift in California’s shameful and torturous use of solitary confinement,” said Azadeh Zohrabi of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. “We are glad to see that Assemblymember Ammiano seems to be understanding that we must aim at this most egregious use of violence against imprisoned people as a starting point to the serious changes that need to happen within California’s prisons. Moving forward, we would like to see these reforms be applied retroactively to the people who have been living under these horrendous conditions for decades, and we’d like to work to get as many of our loved ones out of solitary, to keep them out, and to fight against anyone ever having to be subjected to this torture to begin with.”

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.”

[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]

So this is our banned testimony – Pelican Bay prisoners statement to legislators

We are prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison 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. 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. We are put in Pelican Bay not for any specific term of months or years for misconduct we have committed, but indefinitely, which in practice means forever- unless we become informants.

Last summer we went on hunger strike – we were willing to starve ourselves to death rather than continue to endure these dehumanizing conditions forever. We ended the strike because several compassionate legislators promised to call the hearings that are taking place today. Yet today the legislators will hear from psychologists, lawyers, other experts, corrections officials – but not from us – who have the most experience with the conditions we face – because California (CDCR) prison officials refuse to let us testify, even remotely via video or audio which they could easily do.

So this is our banned testimony: CDCR claims to have now instituted a reform program. It is a sham, just like the so called reform they instituted a decade ago after a court settlement which resulted in no real change. This new reform effort still maintains the basic conditions at Pelican Bay, and will continue to keep prisoners in isolation for vague gang affiliation based on artwork, literature, communications, or informants’ testimony that does not meet California’s judicial standards for reliability in criminal trials. 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.

Moreover, even those prisoners who need to be isolated from the general population because of the violence they have committed while in prison ought to be treated humanely. There is no reason California can’t run very high security prisons that allow prisoners held in segregation to have contact visits with family, phone calls to family and friends, educational and rehabilitation programs, more out of cell time, cells with windows, recreational yards that allow for small groups to recreate together and see the outside world: in short, segregation from the general population, but not torture or dehumanization.

We have written petitions and letters to the Governor, filed a class action Federal lawsuit, and gone on hunger strikes seeking real reform, not the bogus reform Californian officials now propose. It’s time for California to do the right thing. It’s time for the legislature to enact meaningful reforms.

Todd Ashker, C58191, D4 121
Arturo Castellanos, C17275, D1-121
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C35671, D1-117
Antonio Guillen, P81948, D2-106

4  Reps:  for the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Human Rights Movement,   Crescent City,  California

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fight Against Solitary Confinement, Legislative Hearings Continue Tuesday

Fight Against Solitary Confinement, Legislative Hearings Continue Tuesday
CDCR Set to Defend Policies, Prisoners and Advocates Call for Comprehensive Change

Press Contacts:
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
Azadeh Zohrabi—510.990 2841
Isaac Ontiveros—510.517.6612

What:  Legislative Hearings on CDCR Proposed New Policies on Inmate Segregation
When:  9:30 a.m.
Where: Room 4202 on the fourth floor of the State Capitol annex, Sacramento, CA

Rally to Follow Immediately After the Hearing

Sacramento—Advocates and loved ones of California prisoners will travel across the state on Tuesday to attend a special hearing of the California Public Safety Committee on “new policies” being proposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).  Tuesday’s hearing is the second hearing convened in direct response to this past summer’s massive prisoner hunger strike in protest of California’s use of solitary confinement in its notorious prison system.   The CDCR will tout so-called reforms in its “Inmate Segregation” policies, and is expected to claim that comprehensive changes to its isolation and anti-gang policies are underway.   Advocates, activists, lawyers, and prisoners themselves have reviewed the CDCR’s new policies and will show the department’s changes do little to nothing to diminish the use of extreme isolation. Prisoners and their supporters are calling for elected officials to enact legislation that will comprehensively diminish, if not all together do away with the state’s use of prolonged solitary confinement.  A lively rally will be held immediately after the hearing.

“Isolating large numbers of inmates in the SHU for long periods of time is an expensive and deeply troubling practice that undermines effective rehabilitation and long-term public safety,” said state senator Loni Hancock in a press release. “We are working towards meaningful change, and at the end of the day we want to get it right,” continued Hancock, who has spearheaded the hearings along with Assemblyperson Tom Ammiano.

The CDCR has congratulated itself on developing comprehensive changes to is prisoner management and segregation policies, issuing a lengthy and often confusing “revision” of its policies where it claims to have made reforms to how it targets, or “validates” prisoners as members of “security threat groups (STG)” and how a prisoner held indefinitely in solitary confinement could work their way out based on its “step down program (SDP).”  Pelican Bay prisoner Antonio Guillen has been held in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) has reviewed every iteration of the policy. “The new policy outlines who is eligible for validation as a STG member or associate and subsequently placed in the Step Down Program.  Which, for all intents and purposes, is the SHU,” said Guillen in a written message. “The way the new STG policy is drafted goes far beyond the practices used to validate prisoners in the past.  Under the old process a prisoner could only be validated if he or she was considered a member or associate of the several, so-called “traditional prison gangs.” But under the new STG policy ANYONE can be subjected to this abusive practice, as a wider net has been cast.  Thus, making no one safe from the validation process and ensuring and increase in the SHU population.”

Indeed, under the new regulations the CDCR identifies at least 1500 security threat groups and reserves the right to categorize any group of three or more prisoners that “presents a potential threat to the security of the institution.” The new step down program still hinges on prisoners de-briefing – or snitching – in order to be considered for any increase in privileges or the possibility of returning to general population from solitary.

“CDCR’s proposed regulations are just smoke and mirrors.” Say civil right attorney Anne Weills, who will be a panelist at Tuesday’s hearings. “Behind the turgid and confusing language of the CDCR’s documents is the same unconstitutional practice of indefinite detention and solitary confinement.  The new policy with its draconian disciplinary matrix gives prison officials almost total discretion to find someone guilty of alleged gang activity, allowing a prisoner to remain in the SHU for the rest of their lives.”