Sleep Deprivation Torture:
40-48 times a day,
loud and disturbing “security/welfare checks”
WRITE A LETTER to Lindsay Hayes, the suicide expert who’s endorsed this harmful practice by CA Dept. of Corrections. Mr. Hayes can stop the “security/welfare checks.”
Guards are jarringly waking prisoners every 30 minutes in solitary confinement units throughout CA prisons in the name of “security/welfare checks.” The so-called “checks”are causing serious, ongoing sleep deprivation, and sleep deprivation is torture. This practice serves no welfare or security purpose; it only harms the prisoners, mentally and physically.
“Security/welfare checks,” purported to be for suicide prevention, are a result of Coleman v. Gov of California, a lawsuit regarding the CA Department of Corrections inadequate mental health treatment for seriously mentally ill CA prisoners. Unfortunately, these brutally loud and traumatizing “checks” are being used as a blanket practice, whether prisoners are suicidal or not, and despite the fact that denial of sleep is devastating for the human mind and body. This is not suicide prevention; it is another form of torture used on CA prisoners. Please help us end it.
PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation
P.O. Box 5692
Eureka, CA 95502
Below the following letter and article you will find a COLLECTION OF LINKS to Sleep Expert Reports, Media Articles, Videos, Personal Testimonies, Attorney Reports, Scientific Articles, Letters in Opposition, and a formal Complaint to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. First, here’s a letter from a prisoner in Pelican Bay SHU after a month of the checks and an article from the Del Norte Triplicate.
Letter excerpt from Pelican Bay SHU
Sept. 1, 2015
…[H]ere’s a description of the security/welfare checks that I was telling you about so you can have a clearer picture and be able to complain about what’s going on. …
To understand the negative effects of the so-called “security/welfare checks” on inmates you must know what it entails. First off the design of the [Pelican Bay] SHU has wide open cells with the whole front wall/door made of perforated metal (a screen of holes) and the pods are narrow and short which ensures that the sound made in the pod/block is amplified more than it normally would be and everything sounds like it is happening in or right n front of our cells. Now with that in mind the following happens every 30 minutes. The pod door will slam open, the pod door makes a loud mechanical sound when opening/closing as it’s opened by the block tower remotely, then a correctional officer (C/O) will walk in and press a metal wand to a button next to each of the 8 cells in the pod to make contact . A “wand” is a device that records the C/O making contact with the button next to an inmates cell. In the day (6:00am to 10:00pm) the wand makes a high-pitch beep when making contact and at night (10:00pm to 6:00am) it doesn’t beep. The wand when hitting the metal button makes a loud bang sound of metal hitting metal which is often made louder by the C/O’s intentionally or just lazily hitting it harder to make it worse for us. The C/O’s have to walk up and down the stairs in the pod to get to the top tier and back down. The C/O’s usually stomp up and down the stairs with no regard for the sound that it causes. C/O’s also carry a a large amount of keys that loudly jingle when walking in the pod. When leaving the pod, the pod door is slammed shut which makes an even louder sound than when opening. The pod doors have a large lock and chain attached that must be removed and replaced when it is going to be opened and when closed and is loud.
At a minimum all the above will occur 48 times a day. This all started on 8.2.15 at 10:00pm. Prior to all this the pod door would open/close only around 13-14 times per day and only 4 times of that at night.
Also on top of that we can clearly hear all the other pods’ doors (6 pods per block) opening/closing and the beeping from the wand pushing their buttons. At night the pod doors are especially loud. This happens 24/7.
The result of all this is that we can’t sleep longer than 30 minutes at any time as any of the noise mentioned is going to wake me up and at times I’m jolted awake with my heart racing from the pod door or a hard hit to the button next to my cell by the C/O’s wand. It’s constant and excessive noise which causes me to be tired all the time and not be my normal self either mentally or physically. Plus the environment has turned negative as the inmates and the C/O’s are angry over the security/welfare checks as the inmates hate the excessive noise and lack of sleep and the C/O’s hate wasting their time in doing them and blame us. …
So I’m hoping all the complaints they are hearing from the outside make them change their mind about the 30 minute checks.
Del Norte Triplicate Article
Sept. 3, 2015
A Pelican Bay State Prison inmate says a “security/welfare check” policy implemented Aug. 3 has caused him and others sleep deprivation and demanded the policy stop.
A letter to the secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from John R. Martinez, a prisoner held in Pelican Bay’s isolated Security Housing Units that were the subject of a landmark settlement Tuesday, says the security/welfare checks take place every 30 minutes preventing inmates from sleeping.
In his letter, Martinez notes the policy has been justified to him by Coleman v. Brown, an ongoing federal court case covering all California prisoners with serious mental disorders, according to CDCR’s website.
In 1995, “The Court said that prison officials violated the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Constitution because they did not provide adequate mental health care” and the case continues to influence CDCR’s policies for providing prisoners with mental health care.
“However, as you know, or should know, Coleman applies to inmates with serious mental illness,” Martinez wrote in a letter to Jeffrey Beard, secretary of CDCR. “However, as you also should know, I and inmates similarly situated do not suffer from serious illness. Moreover, these so called security/welfare checks do absolutely nothing to prevent mental illness. To the contrary, they cause mental impairment through serious sleep deprivation.”
CDCR spokesperson Terry Thornton said the checks are not just for suicide prevention, but also for the security and welfare of the inmates.
Martinez’s letters indicate he’s not convinced.
“These security/welfare checks are counter-productive to their so called intended purpose (mental health care) and serve zero legitimate penological purpose other than to harass and mentally torment us prisoners. (Note: we are unable to sleep as we are awoken every 30 minutes),” Martinez wrote.
In a response to a cease and desist letter regarding the checks, Warden Clark Ducart, cited a May 2014 CDCR memorandum saying the checks were to further CDCR’s efforts to combat inmate suicides.
Beard addressed the new welfare check program during his confirmation hearing in June 2013, saying “”I’m very hopeful that as we move forward that we will see the [inmate suicide] numbers come down totally and in segregation units as well.”
According to a May 2013 memorandum, correctional officers will perform “three welfare checks per hour at staggered intervals not to exceed 30 minutes” on prisoners held in segregation units like the SHU.
According to the memo, welfare checks were conducted during the first 21 days of an inmate’s stay in an Administrative Segregation Unit, but the checks could continue beyond 21 days “when deemed clinically indicated.”
In 2013, prisoners’ rights advocate group Legal Services for Children raised concerns about the welfare checks causing sleep deprivation and the timing of the policy coming right before a planned prison system-wide hunger strike.
This time, the resurgence of the wake-up policy comes weeks before CDCR’s settlement of a class-action lawsuit from Pelican Bay inmates claiming long-term solitary confinement violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment.
Martinez started a short hunger strike to denounce the current checks causing him sleep deprivation. In a letter announcing his strike he stated:
“Deprivation of sleep is a common form of torture and has no place in a civilized society. Sleep is a basic human need and a fundamental constitutional right and I shouldn’t have to be starving myself so I and my fellow prisoners can get some sleep.”
UPDATE (Feb 2017) by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) Committee to End Sleep Deprivation, Prison Focus Issue #51 Serious Sleep Deprivation of CA prisoners in solitary continues- Please speak out! http://wp.me/p1BB1k-2Zw
Sleep Deprivation in Central CA Women’s Facility
“Stop Death Row Harassment” by Sandi Nieves, Central CA Women’s Facility (pg 6) http://womenprisoners.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Fire-Inside-53.pdf
Attorney Sleep Survey Reports
Attorney Sleep Survey Reports from Pelican Bay SHU http://wp.me/P1BB1k-2q2
From Mental Health, Public Health, and Sleep Experts
Sleep Expert Reports about 30 minute “welfare checks”
American Public Health Association (APHA) letter opposing the checks
Quotes from Prisoners Suffering from “Checks”
Short QUOTES from people in ten CA prisons about checks (Dec 2015- Sept 2016) http://wp.me/P1BB1k-2QN
Short QUOTES from Central CA Women’s Facility death row & Pelican Bay SHU about checks (June 2014- March 2016) http://wp.me/P1BB1k-2K5
Quotes, Dated Letter Excerpts from Prisoners about “Security/Welfare Checks” (June 2014- March 2016) http://tinyurl.com/hgxz4kg
Complaint to UN
COMPLAINT to United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, March 24, 2016 https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/mendez-complaint-documents.pdf
Full page Flier- Stop Sleep Deprivation http://tinyurl.com/z7s6utd
Half page Handout- Stop Sleep Deprivation http://tinyurl.com/hxtlwhf
Survey for CA Prisoners
Security/Welfare Checks SLEEP SURVEY https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/survey-sleep-dep-5-26-16.pdf
Sign-on and Template Letters in Opposition to Checks
LETTER (sign-on) to CA Governor and CA Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees http://wp.me/P1BB1k-2mV
Call for Prisoners & Non-prisoners to Write Letters to “Suicide Expert” Opposing Checks (with addresses and helpful info) http://tinyurl.com/z8rgrv4
- Short TEMPLATE LETTER to Hayes http://wp.me/P1BB1k-2IM
- Longer TEMPLATE LETTER to Hayes http://wp.me/P1BB1k-2Je
“Suicide Checks” Lead to Extreme Sleep Deprivation at California’s Pelican Bay Prison
SF Bay View article “Take action against ongoing sleep deprivation torture – 137 days as of Dec. 18”
Sleep Deprivation Exacerbates Already Tortuous Conditions (end of pg 8) http://www.prisons.org/documents/CPF48.pdf
The Guardian, Sept, 25, 2015
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Supporting the Hunger Strikers
Fighting Torture by Sleep Deprivation at Pelican Bay
Alleged sleep deprivation at Pelican Bay State Prison, KIEM TV
Calif. protest: ‘Prison sleep deprivation is torture!’
Prisoner rights groups to protest Pelican Bay policy in capital
New “Welfare Checks” Every 30 minutes at Pelican Bay SHU
Solitary Prisoners’ Lawyers Slam CDCR for Sleep Deprivation
Pressure Builds To Stop Sleep Deprivation in Pelican Bay SHU
VIDEO from “Sleep Deprivation” Emergency Protest, 11/30/2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjWF3OtGSkQ
VIDEO “Sleep Deprivation in the California SHU”
VIDEO(S) “Stop Sleep Deprivation in CA Prisons | Feb 1, 2016” (youtubes) http://tinyurl.com/hdm35mr
VIDEO “Rattling the Bars: 121 Days Without Sleep” Real News Network
Scientific Articles on Sleep
Scientific American, Oct. 2015 “Sleep On It: Your nightly rest turns out to affect your mind and health more than anyone suspected”
Why Interrupted Sleep Is Worse Than Short Sleep
A Brief History of Sleep Deprivation and Torture https://sleepjunkies.com/features/sleep-deprivation-and-torture-a-brief-history/
The so-called “security/welfare checks” began in Pelican Bay SHU in late May 2013, right before prisoners there began the largest hunger strike in history (started on July 8, 2013). Prisoners reported “They are waking us up every 30 minutes, trying to break us before the strike. But, we’re not going to let it stop us.” The checks ceased before the hunger strike yet started up again just as the Ashker v. Brown prisoner civil rights class action settlement (initiated in Pelican Bay) was finalizing in August of 2015.
Here is an article from 2013:
Sleep Deprivation Intensifies Torture Conditions for Prisoners in Advance of Hunger Strikes and Work Actions