Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute (MCLI) supports the prisoners of the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) and all those prisoners striking in solidarity, in their five core demands upon the CDCR. MCLI agrees with the prisoners’ contention that the inhumane conditions that exist in the SHU are in violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The CAT defines torture as
“any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” (Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, art. 1, Dec. 10, 1984, S. Treaty Doc. No. 100-20 (1988), 1465 U.N.T.S. 85, ratified by U.S. (1994).)
The CDCR policies of long-term isolation, which result in severe mental and physical anguish of SHU prisoners, are in clear violation of CAT. For many years Pelican Bay has instituted policies punishing prisoners for mere possession of books, newspapers and other literature. These and other innocent actions have been used by the CDCR as evidence of alleged gang activity justifying SHU imprisonment. Moreover, Pelican Bay uses “debriefing” sessions, in which a prisoner is expected to inform officials of another prisoner’s gang membership, as virtually the only way for a prisoner to be released from the SHU. This debriefing policy results in coerced confessions in which prisoners are falsely labeled as gang members. The prisoners accused of gang membership subsequently face indeterminate SHU sentences and parole becomes practically impossible unless they “die or debrief.”
Prisoners are spending decades in sensory and socially-deprived conditions where there is effectively no rehabilitative programming. These policies continue under the guise of maintaining prison security. These extreme conditions of physical and mental isolation are not only unconstitutional but they violate international treaty law to which the United States is committed. As stated by Justice Kennedy in the recent Supreme Court decision, “Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons. Respect for that dignity animates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.” (Plata v. Brown, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 1928 (2011)).
We urge the CDCR to address and remedy the daily human rights violations happening in the Pelican Bay SHU immediately.
(Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute (MCLI) is a non-profit in Berkeley California which uses human rights and constitutional law to promote fundamental human rights within the United States).