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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE    April 9, 2014

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.”
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CA Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills last minute; opposes media access to prisoners

California Governor Jerry Brown waited until the last minute to get to a pile of dozens of legislative bills on Sunday that he had been avoiding. Among them were the prison media access bill, AB1270, which was proposed by State Assemblyperson Tom Ammiano. The bill, if passed, would have given reporters access to prisoners unless granting the interview would pose “an immediate and direct threat”, as decided by the prison warden. Brown shut the bill down on Sunday, saying that it went “too far” and that “this standard is too high”. He went on:

“Furthermore, giving criminals celebrity status through repeated appearances on television will glorify their crimes and hurt victims and their families… I agree that too little media access may be harmful, but too much can be as well. This bill gives too much.” Continue reading