A rare joint session of the California Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees held this afternoon to address demands made by prisoners during this summer’s massive hunger strike has just ended. California’s use of indefinite solitary confinement, and the devastating physical, mental, and public health impacts of the notorious practice was at the center of today’s three hour hearing. The hearing was preceded by a lively rally of 100 people, made up mostly by prisoners’ loved ones, who demanded an end to solitary confinement. The crowd then filled the hearing room where panels of experts gave sometimes emotional testimony on the internationally condemned practice. Impassioned public comment continues at the time of this release. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) continued to defend its practices during the hearing.
Billed as an informational hearing, Senator Loni Hancock was clear that the these “frank, public discussions will lead to legislation.” Calling conditions in solitary “beyond the pale,” Assemblymember Tom Ammiano said bluntly that he didn’t want “lip service” from the CDCR. Giving often meandering answers to direct questions, the CDCR admitted directly that action was taken against prisoners who participated in the peaceful hunger strike protest.
“We have to work with, and urge our representatives in the legislature to ensure that changes are made in the interest of imprisoned people, their loved ones, their communities—in the interests of humanity,” prisoners being held in solitary at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison said today in a statement issued to their supporters and state legislators. They continued: “We cannot ignore the urgency of this moment. Let there be no illusions about the difficulty of making these changes, but they are necessary and inevitable.”
After hearing testimony from expert panelists including the ACLU, legal scholars, prisoners’ loved ones, and former prisoners, legislators were particularly interested in the astounding number of people being held in solitary in California, the length of time people are being held there, as well as clear pathways other states have taken to reduce or eliminate their use of solitary confinement.
“We are glad to take the opportunity to educate the Public Safety Committee on the human rights violations happening in California’s solitary confinement cells. We are thankful that the committee understands the gravity of this issue and the legitimacy of the hunger strikers’ demands,” said Dolores Canales of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement after testifying before the Committee on the conditions faced by her son in solitary confinement. “But, we have had many informational hearings on this issue over the course of the past 10 years. It cannot be clearer: now is the time for the legislature to take swift and resolute action to end California’s shameful use of solitary confinement. “