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:

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.”

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.”

Feb 11: CA Legislative hearing on solitary confinement

February 11, 2013: California Legislative hearing on solitary confinement, addressing CDCR’s “gang management” policies. State Capitol, Sacramento. 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

This will be the second (and perhaps last) hearing by the joint Senate and Assembly committees on public safety, co-chaired by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and Senator Loni Hancock.

For more info, including transportation:

Demonstration at the CA State Capitol at the first hearing

Demonstration at the CA State Capitol at the first hearing

The Legislative Hearing of Oct 9

Here are reports on the hearing conducted October 9 by the Joint Public Safety Committee of the California legislature, called by the co-chairs Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and Senator Loni Hancock. Hancock and Ammiano called the hearing in direct response to the hunger strike and have called for another hearing to be held in the next couple months.

The Hearing Itself

  1. ‘SACRAMENTO: ABOLISH THE SHU TODAY!’ (CA legislative hearings Oct. 2013)” a five-and-a-half minute video on Youtube with highlights of the rally and the hearing (by videographer Lucas Guilkey).
  2. Video of the full hearing, about four hours, on the California state government television channel: “Joint Informational Hearing on Segregation Policies in California’s Prisons” or in segments (edited by Lucas Guilkey):
    1. Margaret Winter, Associate Director, National Prison Project of the ACLU, “The Policy and Practice of Segregated Housing in Prisons: The National Dialogue of Scrutiny, Analysis, and Reform” (42 minutes on Youtube; transcript below).
    2. “The Personal Experience, Effect and Lasting Experience of Segregated Confinement in California Prisons” (part one) as “Steven Czifra’s Testimony, Sacramento 2013” on Youtube (6 minutes).
    3. “The Personal Experience, Effect and Lasting Experience of Segregated Confinement in California Prisons” (part two) as “Dolores Canales’ Testimony, Sacramento 2013” on Youtube (8 minutes).
    4. “The Personal Experience, Effect and Lasting Experience of Segregated Confinement in California Prisons” (part three) as “Dorsey Nunn’s Testimony, Sacramento 2013 ” on Youtube (17 minutes).
    5. “The Personal Experience, Effect and Lasting Experience of Segregated Confinement in California Prisons” (part four) as “Legislators Q&A with Steven, Dolores, and Dorsey, Sacramento 2013” on Youtube (24 minutes).
    6. “Segregation Policies in CA Prisons: Current Conditions and Implications On Prison Management and Human Rights” as “Public Testimony on Solitary Confinement, Sacramento 2013” on Youtube (31 minutes).
  3. Transcript of the testimony of Margaret Winter, Associate Director, National Prison Project of the ACLU, “The Policy and Practice of Segregated Housing in Prisons: The National Dialogue of Scrutiny, Analysis, and Reform” (transcript, 5 page PDF).
  4. Additional transcripts to come.

The Rally

  1. Video of the rally held outside the Capitol before the hearing, including Marie Levin, Hunger Strikers’ Letter (ready by Azadeh Zohrabi), Alex Sanchez, Steven Czifra, Irene Huerta, and Dolores Canales as “2013 Rally in Sacramento to Abolish the SHU” on Youtube (28 minutes).

Press Reports (chronological)

  1. Sacramento Bee, October 9, 2013, “California’s solitary-confinement policies scrutinized at hearing” by Jeremy B. White.
  2. KIEM TV (Eureka), “State hears testimony on SHU solitary confinement“, October 9, 2013.
  3. News10ABC (Sacramento), October 9, 2013, “Legislative panel scrutinizes use of solitary confinement” by Nick Monacelli.
  4. San Jose Mercury News, October 9, 2013, “California lawmakers consider curtailing solitary confinement in state prisons” by Jessica Calefati.
  5. Yahoo News (Reuters), October 9, 2013, “California lawmakers hold hearing on prison solitary confinement policy” by Sharon Bernstein.
  6. California Healthline, October 10, 2013, “Joint Hearing Addresses Use of Solitary Confinement in Calif. Prisons“.

Official Video of the CA Legislative Hearing

Video of the hearing as recorded by the Capitol recording system can be viewed or downloaded at the California state channel archives:

Look for the title “Joint Informational Hearing on Segregation Policies in California Prisons” dated October 9, 2013. It is just about four hours long, so it’s a very big file and takes a long time to download. If it does not download completely, it may not open at all or it may lose audio part way through and any error messages may be misleading, depending on your system.

California Legislative Hearings Take on Solitary Confinement, Address Hunger Strike Demands, 100 Rally in Support

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. “

Legislative Hearing Oct. 9 on Hunger Strike; Rallies at Capitol

What: Legislative Hearings on Solitary Confinement, Rallies in Support of the Hunger Strikers
When and Where:  Wednesday October 9, 2013, State Capitol, Sacramento, 95814
–     11:30: Opening Rally on the West Side of the State Capitol
–     1:00-3:30: California Public Safety Committee Hearing
–     Hearing was televised on the California Channel:

In response to the largest prison hunger strike in US history, California lawmakers held the first of a series of legislative hearings on solitary confinement in California prisons.

During their 60-day hunger strike, California prisoners brought the issue of solitary confinement to the attention of the world and garnered an unprecedented level of support for their cause. At its peak, 30,000 prisoners were on strike, demanding an end to indefinite solitary confinement; fundamental changes in the draconian policies used to keep prisoners in solitary; and an end to collective punishment.

Prisoners suspended their strike on September 5th after Senator Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano promised to hold hearings about conditions in the Security Housing Units (SHUs) and take action to address the issues raised by the strikers. The hearings will include testimony by family members and loved ones of prisoners, former prisoners, experts on solitary, advocates, as well as representatives of the CDCR.

“Although this hunger strike is suspended, the major demands of the strikers remain unmet,” said Donna Willmott, of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. ”We look to our legislators to take a stand against torture. We need them to use their power to bring California in line with other states which have succeeded in shutting down or drastically scaling down their SHU units.”

Prisoners involved in the historic strike are also hoping the hearings can produce real changes in California’s internationally condemned use of solitary confinement.  “”Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano have basically said that there has to be change, “ said hunger striker Mutope Duguma from Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU. “It is our hope that these current hearings will render that change that we so desperately seek, in the interests of all prisoners held throughout California in these isolation units and hopefully throughout the United States of America.”

Supporters of the prisoners held a rally before the hearing and again at the conclusion of the proceedings.

[For the LA Times article announcing the hearing, click here]