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.”