Compliance or Critical Thinking?

By Terry A. Kupers, M.D., M.S.P.

(Many thanks to Willow Katz and Dolores Canales for support and editing)

Prisoners consigned to solitary confinement or Security Housing Unit (SHU) are derided as “the worst of the worst.”  But when I enter SHUs around the country in preparation for expert testimony in class action litigation, I find very ordinary people, with some exceptions.  There are very bright people, and there are not so bright people, just as in the community.  There are mean and ornery people and there are peaceful and very caring people, just as in the community (and in prison the peaceful and caring are much more numerous).  

The exceptions include the fact that: 1. A disproportionate number of prisoners in solitary suffer from serious mental illness (S.M.I.) — either they were diagnosed before entering solitary or they developed emotional problems on account of the harsh conditions — and that’s why, when I started touring supermax solitary confinement units in the 80s and 90s, I found that 50% of SHU-dwellers suffered from S.M.I.; 2.  A disproportionate number are people of color — the racism that permeates the criminal “justice” system does not stop at the prison walls; and 3.  A large proportion of individuals in solitary confinement are very bright and very political — I think officers are intimidated by willful and very intelligent prisoners, and selectively send them to solitary.  Of course, the subgroups can overlap, so there are no sharp boundaries.  In any case, the population in SHUs are very far from “the worst of the worst.”

When I set out to interview and examine the plaintiffs in the Ashker v. Governor of California lawsuit about unconstitutional conditions and a lack of due process at the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU, I met men in the second and third categories, people of color and very bright and very political.  There were not very many prisoners who suffer from S.M.I. because prior litigation, Coleman v. Governor of California, resulted in a federal court order that SHU residents receive mental health evaluations and those suffering from S.M.I. be transferred to special units, the Psychiatric Services Units (PSUs), where they might receive mental health treatment.  Of course, conditions in the PSUs closely approximate SHU conditions except that prisoners are moved from their cells to “cages” (the staff call them “treatment or programming modules”) for mental health sessions.  

A majority of the inhabitants of the Pelican Bay SHU were alleged to be “gang-affiliates” or members, based on “confidential information,” typically meaning other prisoners had informed they were gang-related.  Those other prisoners were granted privileges or released from SHU in exchange for their “snitching,” and of course the prisoners in SHU had never been told what evidence there was against them, nor were they given an opportunity to defend themselves against the charge of gang-affiliation.  So, in an average case, a Latinx man from an East L.A. barrio was seen giving the high five to a suspected gang member, or wrote a letter to a cousin in prison who was suspected of gang-affiliation, and from then on he was classified gang-affiliated and sent to SHU.  

Alleged gang-affiliation was sufficient cause for the CDCR to consign prisoners to SHU for the remainder of their lives, unless they were willing to snitch on other prisoners (the “debriefing” process), reach the end of their prison sentence (parole), or die.  Prisoners described their choices as “snitch, parole or die.”  The Ashker settlement supposedly ended the practice of sending prisoners to SHU for alleged gang-affiliation alone.  

The 24 prisoners I interviewed were all very bright, many were very well read, and all of them were very aware of and articulate about social injustices and inequities.  On average, they had gotten into trouble with the law as teenagers, maybe were doing drugs, and in some cases they were involved with street gangs.  Almost all of them dropped out of school before graduating high school.  They entered the criminal legal system in their late teens or early twenties, settled down and looked back with regret on their criminal ways (or, a significant number were actually innocent of the charges against them, having been falsely convicted on the basis of tampered or bribed witness identification, the same unfortunate process that would get them consigned to SHU and then denied parole). 

I found myself face-to-face with men I found simpatico, and very interesting to talk to.  I rarely find people in the wider community who have so thoroughly studied philosophy and history and are conversant with the theories not only of Freud, Marx, and Darwin, but also Malcolm X, Franz Fanon and Che Guevera.  But in the Pelican Bay SHU these were studies and theories that might pop into the conversation at any moment.  The men had started studying on their own as soon as they entered prison, earned their G.E.D.s, took college courses when permitted, and in many cases studied the law and became jailhouse lawyers, helping other prisoners with their appeals and legal cases.  In fact, the Ashker v. Governor of California lawsuit began as a pro se case (meaning prisoners act as their own attorneys) brought by plaintiffs Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell.  Imagine how difficult it is to study law and file claims from a windowless cell with no library privileges except being able to request a few specific books or cases and hope officers will deliver them to the cell.

Continue reading

CALL FOR URGENT LAST MINUTE ACTION for Ashker v Governor case!

Wed, May 13, 2020, 9am PST*: Please tune in at  San Francisco Courtroom 3 9:00am Wednesday 5/13

THANK YOU AND CALL FOR URGENT LAST MINUTE ACTION! from California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC)

***Please circulate this as broadly as possible

First, thank you for attending our Ashker v. Governor hearing today. It uplifted our spirit to see such wide support.

WE ALSO WRITE TO ASK FOR YOUR SUPPORT IN THIS URGENT LAST MINUTE ACTION! To our surprise, the 9th Circuit Judges have ordered parties to return to court tomorrow, giving our attorneys less than 24 hours to prepare to argue for the extension motion.

PLEASE TUNE AGAIN TOMORROW TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT!

CLICK ON: https://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/view_video.php?pk_vid=0000017350

or

San Francisco Courtroom 3 9:00am Wednesday 5/13

Why is the extension motion important?
We are arguing for an EXTENSION MOTION so the court will continue to monitor that CDCr (CA Dept of Corrections) is in compliance with the Ashker settlement. Given CDCr has continued to violate the terms of the settlement and the constitutional rights of the prisoners represented in the class action lawsuit, it is necessary to have the settlement monitoring period extended. CDC wants the monitoring to end so they cannot be held accountable.

*The Ashker case is 4th for the court on its 9am calendar Wednesday. Please keep checking. It will probably be closer to 10 or 10:30am when our case is heard.

5/12 Watch Court Hearing in Ashker v Gov! Stop Solitary Confinement

No more doublespeak by CDCr. We are in court to reject solitary by another name! #StopSolitary

PLEASE TUNE IN TUESDAY, MAY 12, 2020 @9AM PST AND LET CDCr KNOW WE ARE WATCHING!
Link to the livestream available here:

https://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/live_oral_arguments.php

Men in Solitary Confinement in CA Take Their Case Before 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. CDCR Continues to Violate Settlement Agreement: Men Held Alone in Cells 23 Hours a Day

**See more below about the livestream court arguments, the online after-discussion, and a social media toolkit**

STOP SOLITARY CONFINEMENT: Tune in to watch oral arguments in Ashker v. Governor of California 

Join the Center for Constitutional Rights on Tuesday, May 12, 2020 as arguments are heard in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal on whether the state of California violated the settlement in our case, Ashker v. Governor, a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners held in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent a decade or more in solitary confinement.

Attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights will urge the court to uphold a ruling that California prisons have violated a landmark settlement agreement intended to end indefinite solitary confinement. The district court held that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) violated the 2015 settlement by maintaining prisoners in levels of isolation equal to or even more severe than the isolation they experienced in the Security Housing Units (SHU).

Tune in at 9:00am PST on May 12 to watch first hand and JOIN OUR TWEETSTORM, as we reject #solitarybyanothername.

Feel free to use visuals and sample messaging from our our social media toolkit,

Arguments will likely start between 9:00 and 9:30 am PST, depending on the length and order of arguments. You will find the link to the livestream on the court’s website.

STAY TUNED AFTER THE HEARING FOR A COMMUNITY-CENTERED ONLINE BRIEFING!

Following oral argument in Ashker, join us at 11:30am PST for a community-centered online briefing with attorneys Jules Lobel and Samuel Miller. The legal team will share their thoughts about how the hearing went, you will get the opportunity to ask questions, and we will highlight action items to move forward.

For more information and to receive the Zoom link and passwork, please RSVP on Eventbrite

For questions, contact Dolores Canales, CFASC: (714) 290-9077, dol1canales@gmail.com

Online briefing hosted by California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

Solidarity Message from the Four Prisoner Reps and California Prison Update, February 2020

Download and/or print all documents in this post as a pdf HERE

Four-main-reps-Todd-Ashker-Arturo-Castellanos-George-Franco-Sitawa-Nantambu-Jamaa

These men, known as the “four prisoner Reps,” Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, conceived, planned and led the historic 2011-2013 California mass hunger strikes that drew 30,000 participants at their peak, according to CDCr’s own records.

Introduction from the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

What follows below is an update from the leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes against indefinite solitary confinement and other mistreatment across the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr), the world’s largest prison system. These “Reps” had been in solitary for decades and sought to draw attention to and challenge the systematic torture by CDCr through a series of non-violent hunger strikes, two in 2011, and a third in 2013.

In May of 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights and several prominent prisoner rights attorneys and organizations in California formed a team and partnered with a representative group of 10 Pelican Bay SHU prisoner plaintiffs, including some of the hunger strike reps, to file a class action lawsuit. That lawsuit, Ashker v. Governor of CA, charged that California’s practice of isolating prisoners in solitary confinement for many years, and indefinitely, violated U.S. Constitution protections against “cruel and unusual punishment” and denied Constitutional guarantees to “due process.” Also in 2012, the four Reps and 12 other SHU Prisoner Representatives issued an historic document, the Agreement to End Hostilities, calling for an end to all violence and hostility between different groups of prisoners throughout California.

A third hunger strike began July 8, 2013, involved over 30,000 people incarcerated in California prisons, lasted 60 days, and made solitary confinement a significant issue across the United States. All major U.S. newspapers’ editorial pages had at least one condemnation of the practice in the weeks that followed. The third strike ended when the CA State Senate and State Assembly Committees overseeing prisons held unprecedented public hearings to investigate California’s solitary confinement. On Sept 1, 2015, a landmark settlement was achieved in Ashker v. Governor of CA ending indeterminate solitary confinement in California prisons and allowing the legal team to monitor the California prison system to ensure settlement compliance. This month, February 2020, the four Reps have issued a solidarity statement and California prison update.

SOLIDARITY MESSAGE FROM THE FOUR PRISONER REPS
AND CALIFORNIA PRISON UPDATE
(names listed in alphabetical order)
by Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

A shout out of solidarity and respect to all class members and prisoners across the state. As the four reps, we felt a public report on the current state of California prisons from prisoners was overdue.

As leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes that captured the attention of the nation and the world on the role of solitary confinement in United States prison systems, particularly California, we four prisoner reps became recognized as speaking both for the Ashker class, former Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, but also more broadly in many respects for the entire California prisoner class.

California’s prison system, the largest in the world at that time, was also the greatest abuser of long term solitary confinement. We were housed in the Short Corridor of the notorious Pelican Bay Super Max SHU (Security Housing Unit) and, as all Short Corridor prisoners understood, the only way out of that isolating torturous hell was to “parole, snitch or die.”

We decided standing up together, asserting our humanity even at the cost of our own lives, was better than rotting and dying alone in our concrete tombs. Nonviolent united action was the only path that made sense; our only avenue to act was a hunger strike. It took widespread unity, preparation and work among us prisoners, but also work on the outside by our families, friends and a growing list of supporters across the state and the country.

Without prisoners speaking about our conditions of confinement, the public narrative about imprisonment and mass incarceration is missing a critical voice – our voice, the incarcerated. We are the first-hand experts on the daily experience of being caged in prison generally and the trauma of extreme isolation.

All other experts collect data, do studies, view our experience without living it. Many, not all, are our oppressors. Their expertise is not about what incarceration is like, but why we and so many millions of people in the U.S. should be imprisoned. No voice has more expertise about the experience and impact of incarceration than the voice of prisoners.

Here we make five points:

First. Prison in the United States is based on punishment, not rehabilitation. The United States has the largest prison population in the world and the highest percentage of a state’s population housed in cages. We are held in punishing ways that cause fear, emptiness, rage, depression and violence. Many of us are more damaged when we leave prison than when we entered.

According to the National Reentry Resource Center, a high percentage of state and federal prisoners will be released back into society. National statistics indicate that there is a high rate of released prisoners returning to prison. All of those who leave are older, some smarter, but all of us are less able to be productive in the society at large or good for our communities or our families. It is very hard for former prisoners to get jobs.

Prison presents an opportunity for society to rehabilitate or help people. Many of us could use support services. That opportunity is lost and buried by a vindictive ideology of punishment.

Rather than us being hypervigilant, concentrating on violence, dangers, our fears and rage, prison could be a place to engage our minds in useful jobs and job training, with classrooms for general learning, training in self-awareness and understanding, anti-addiction approaches. Instead, we are mostly just warehoused, sometimes in dangerous yards with angry, frightened, vicious guards.

California’s Governor Newsom has the opportunity to help institute a massive prison reform movement.

Second. California likes to think of itself as a progressive national leader, yet in sentencing California is among the harshest in the nation. In California, a life term is given for second degree murder. Second degree murder is a non-premeditated killing. Only 17 states are that punishing. Two thirds of the states and the U.S. federal system give a flat 15 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that evolving standards of society’s decency should create a national  consensus on sentencing standards. Our prison journeys begin in those courts. We four reps of the California prison class call for reform in sentencing. Massive money could be spent for education, training and jobs here and in our communities rather than on caging human beings to harm rather than help us or society.

Third. The trauma we experience in these overcrowded institutions with a culture of aggressive oppression, as if we are violent animals, is harmful and breeds violence. We prisoners should not join in our own oppression. It is not in the interest of the prison class to buy into promised rewards for lying on other prisoners.

The use of lying confidential informants is widespread and legendary in California prisons and jails. We see even among ourselves, who have great active lawyers ready to pay attention to our situations, just how regularly vicious retaliation, evil lying  and disregard of our medical needs occurs. Broadly among the California prisoner class, there is mistreatment, horrid isolation, medical disregard, terrible food, cells that are too cold, too hot or too damp.

The history of positive social change demonstrates that when those who are oppressed stand together – as a group, a class – against that oppression, change can happen. Our own experience with eliminating endless solitary confinement in California proves that.

We need to stand with each other, behaving respectfully, demanding respect and not turning on our fellow prisoners for promises of crumbs. We four reps stand for major prison reform that helps us, not harms us, that betters society, not makes it worse.

Fourth. We four reps are for the principles we outlined in the Agreement to End Hostilities, the cessation of all hostilities between groups. We called on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes.

If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues. We encourage all prisoners to study the Agreement to End Hostilities and to try to live by those principles to seek your support to strive together for a safer prison environment.

We are not there yet. Dangerous cross-group hostility remains. What we experience in California prisons is not just developed in prison but is also widespread and supported in free society. Racial antagonisms, ghettoized housing, separation, institutionalized racism and promotion of beliefs of each other as less than human, as stupid, as criminal barbarians can cause us to fear and hate each other.It does not serve us or society well. There are no easy ways to challenge these deep American divisions; forcing us together in joint yards, visiting rooms or classrooms will lead to violence and deepen the danger.

We four reps especially call out and stand against 50/50 yards. We oppose forced mixing of hostile groups where mortal enemies are forced together; 50/50 yards are dangerous and will make things much worse by causing fresh horrific encounters. No matter the policy’s intention, the state is responsible for our safety and wellbeing while we’re living under its jurisdiction.

We are entitled to respect and safety. We seek what we are entitled to. The 50/50 yards as a CDCr policy provokes violence. At this time, we endorse separate yards, separate programming and separate visiting.

We also call on California leadership, Governor Newsom and the State Assembly and Senate to implement policies that encourage and grow support for the Agreement to End Hostilities that do not include 50/50 yards or forced interaction, but rather engage our minds and energy with productive jobs, education, training – major prison reform to a genuine rehabilitative system.

Fifth. The guard culture, especially in the yards, is vicious and provocative. Here where we live, the guards do not care about our safety. The guards get extra pay when there is violence; it is in their financial interest to promote it. Not surprisingly, guards regularly provoke disputes. Many enjoy the resulting violence.

California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the powerful guards’ union, is led by men who for the most part consider prisoners less than human. The CCPOA by their network and behavior supports the use of set ups, targeting, lying and isolation for random punishment. This intentionally causes widespread fear.

The CCPOA is one of the most politically influential organizations in California and holds many righteous political leaders hostage. The CCPOA members benefit with large overtime pay bonuses from violence and lockdowns.

Only if prison reform becomes a widespread demand of California voters can the influence of CCPOA be challenged. We need our families, friends and communities to build and extend our allies and develop strong support to vote for politicians who recognize our worth and are for widespread serious prison reform and an end to brutal warehousing that endangers society every day.

CDCR and California itself are legally responsible and accountable for prison conditions. Neglect does not free them of state institution responsibility for those in their “care.” The guards’ union should not be permitted to purchase power for abuse.

California citizens need to vote for prison rehabilitation as a priority: money for teachers, instructors, prisoner jobs instead of lockdown overtime and more guards.

Finally, we close with an update on our legal challenge. Our class action constitutional challenge to long-term solitary confinement was filed in May of 2012. We won a landmark settlement on Sept. 1, 2015, that resulted in thousands of people being released from SHUs across the state.

The settlement also gave us and our legal team the right and responsibility to monitor whether CDCr is following the requirements of the settlement for two years. That monitoring period was set to end in 2017, but in January 2019, U.S. Magistrate Judge Illman granted our motion to extend monitoring of the settlement agreement based on ongoing systemic constitutional violations in CDCR’s use of confidential information and in its reliance on past gang validations to deny parole.

Magistrate Judge Illman’s order extended our monitoring for 12 months. CDCr appealed and asked the court to suspend monitoring pending the appeal outcome. U.S. District Court Judge Wilken intervened and allowed us to continue monitoring pending any appeal outcomes.

Our legal team has two pending appeals that CDCr has filed seeking to overturn the lower court orders in our favor. One appeal covers the extension of the monitoring as discussed above; the other covers enforcement of the settlement agreement regarding conditions of confinement in Level IV prisons and the RCGP (Restricted Custody General Population) unit.

As our legal team continues to monitor implementation of our settlement agreement, they are looking closely at how CDCR uses confidential information to place and keep validated and nonvalidated prisoners in Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation) and RCGP for long periods of time and sentence people to SHU for bogus RVRs (Rules Violation Reports). They are also trying to keep track of how validations continue to impact us, especially when we go before the parole board.

If you have any information about any of these issues, although they cannot respond to every letter, please write our team at: Anne Cappella, Attorney at Law, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, 201 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Fourth Floor, Redwood City, CA 94065.

In closing, we remind all of us prisoners and supporters that we are human beings who have a difficult shared experience. We have a right to our dignity, even inside these punishing walls. We present an opportunity to make society better rather than meaner.

We ask all prisoners to stand together, read and act within the principles of the Agreement to End Hostilities, whether you are in Ad Seg or RCGP or General Population, see yourselves as part of an international Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

We four prisoner reps send regards and recognition to each of you as fellow human beings who are entitled to fairness, dignity and respect. We send our respect to all our brothers and sisters incarcerated anywhere with hopes for genuine rehabilitative programming, jobs, education and training in this coming year.

We send our greetings to all the friends, family and communities from which we come, to all our allies in the general society, and we send our hopes for an understanding of the opportunity California has to again be a leader in reform to make the world a better place with so many of us who need help gathered together in state institutions.

We send extra love, support and attention to our Brother Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, who is experiencing challenging health issues. Our Brother Sitawa sends his extra love to all those prisoners, prisoners’ families and general supporters of the International Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

February 2020

The authors requested this message be followed with the Agreement to End Hostilities.

AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
August 12, 2012

To whom it may concern and all California Prisoners:

Greetings from the entire PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives. We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP-SHU Corridor. Wherein, we have arrived at a mutual agreement concerning the following points:

1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals, who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, that now is the time to for us to collectively seize this moment in time, and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.

Continue reading

COURT FINDS SYSTEMIC CONSTITUTIONAL VIOLATIONS BY CALIFORNIA DEPT OF CORRECTIONS

Extends Settlement to End Indefinite Solitary Confinement in California

January 28, 2019, Eureka – Late Friday, a federal judge found that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is systemically violating the due process rights of prisoners. The judge ruled that CDCR is violating the Constitution by repeatedly relying on unreliable and even fabricated confidential information to send California prisoners to solitary confinement. The court also found CDCR is using constitutionally flawed gang validations to deny people in prison a fair opportunity for parole.

Read Court’s Decision here (Jan 25, 2019): https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/order-granting-extension-motion.pdf

As a result of evidence submitted by the prisoners’ legal team, the judge extended by one year the terms of an historic settlement agreement to end indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, including a provision allowing monitoring by plaintiffs’ counsel.

“The purpose of the settlement was to eradicate constitutional violations related to CDCR’s use of solitary confinement. Unfortunately, California is still violating our clients’ fundamental rights to due process. This ruling is an opportunity to remedy those continuing violations,” said Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights Rachel Meeropol. “It also sends a clear message to CDCR and California’s new governor: until the constitutional violations end, the courts will be watching.”

Under a 2015 landmark agreement, nearly 1600 prisoners were released from isolated Security Housing Units (SHU) and CDCR agreed to substantially reform the process by which prisoners were placed and held in the SHU. Prisoners are no longer sent to SHU based solely on gang affiliation—often established on the basis of extremely insubstantial evidence—but only due to specific and serious rules violations.

The judge’s decision underscored the serious problems in California’s old gang validation system and the way it continues to impact prisoners:

“Plaintiffs have provided the court with ample evidentiary examples that demonstrate that the CDCR’s old process for gang validation was constitutionally infirm (for example, because CDCR’s interpretation of the word ‘activity’ also included something described as, ‘non-action piece[s] of evidence’). As a result, prisoners’ validations were sometimes based on as little as . . . having received correspondence (regardless of the content) or artwork, a birthday card, or other possessions from a validated gang member . . .  or for the artwork they possessed (such as art containing Aztec or Mayan images). . .  Plaintiffs also provide evidence from a number of class members’ parole transcripts in support of the contention that gang validation is a highly significant, if not often a dispositive factor in parole consideration, and that when prisoners dispute their validation at their parole hearings, Commissioners consider the challenge itself to constitute evidence of dishonesty and a manifestation of a lack of remorse or credibility.”

“Now that a judge has determined that California’s gang validation system is deeply flawed, the Parole Board must immediately stop relying on these old validations and give our clients a fair chance to earn release,” said Carol Strickman of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

The judge’s decision also focused on how California distorts confidential information, describing one disciplinary case where “the potentially exculpatory part of the [confidential informant’s] account was never disclosed, and instead it appears to have been replaced by an inculpating statement that the [confidential informant] never uttered;” another case where a “prisoner was told that the evidence against him included two confidential sources . . .  however, according to the underlying confidential memorandum, there were not two sources, there was only one, and that person stated that he did not witness the event in question;” and many more, leading the judge to conclude that “time and again, the shield of confidentiality for informants and their confidential accounts is used to effectively deny class members any meaningful opportunity to participate in their disciplinary hearings.”

Lead counsel at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jules Lobel, explained, “CDCR relies extensively on confidential in-custody informants, even though the California legislature and experts around the country recognize they are often unreliable. We hope this decision will provide momentum for California and other state prison systems to take steps to ensure that this type of unreliable evidence is not used to send people in prison to solitary confinement.

Ashker v. Governor of California was originally filed by prisoners who had been isolated in the SHU for more than a decade based on alleged gang affiliation. The lawsuit followed coordinated hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 by over 30,000 prisoners statewide. On the third anniversary of the settlement agreement, former SHU prisoners published a statement marking their progress and highlighting work that remains in order to fully remedy their unconstitutional conditions.

The Ashker plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Bremer Law GroupPLLC, Ellenberg & Hull, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone.

Read the magistrate judge’s decision here.

Original post: https://ccrjustice.org/home/press-center/press-releases/court-finds-systemic-constitutional-violations-california

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.


The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, The Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.

Rally Against Continuing Solitary — The Four Prisoner Reps Will Be PRESENT in Court Conference AUG 21, 2018

RALLY at the San Francisco Federal Courthouse while the four CA Prisoner Hunger Strike and Ashker Class Representatives ‘Meet and Confer’ with CDCr to address the continuing solitary conditions that violate the Ashker lawsuit settlement agreement. The four prisoner hunger strike representatives will be present in the courtroom, an historic presence!  

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

RALLY 11:30am

Phillip Burton Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse
450 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102

Help create a strong show of solidarity with prisoners fighting for human rights!

What’s going on? The prisoner class-led movement and the Ashker v. Gov of CA class action lawsuit resulted in the release of over 1400 people from solitary confinement Security Housing Units (SHUs) to what the CA Department of Corrections (CDCr) calls “General Population.” However, many of those people continue to be subjected to conditions of extreme isolation. With little to no out-of-cell time and no chance for social interaction, they are still in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT.

On July 3, 2018, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled:

The Settlement Agreement was intended to remove Plaintiffs from detention in the SHU, where they were isolated in a cell for 22 ½ to 24 hours a day.… many Plaintiffs [now] spend an average of less than an hour of out-of-cell time each day, which is similar to the conditions they endured in the SHU.  … This demonstrates a violation of the Settlement Agreement.” FULL RULING HERE

and “…a substantial percentage of Plaintiffs in Restricted Custody General Population (RCGP) are …not permitted to exercise in small group yards or engage in group leisure activities. This does not comply with the terms of the Settlement Agreement.” FULL RULING HERE

The Ashker Plaintiff class reps and legal team were ordered to meet and confer* with CDCr lawyers to explore a resolution of these two issues.

The four prisoner hunger strike representatives- Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, and George Franco- will be present in the SF courtroom.

Please join the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) outside the San Francisco Federal Courthouse to show our solidarity with prisoners who struggle against solitary confinement torture, who organize across racial/geographic lines, and who- through hunger strikes, massive solidarity, formal complaints, the Agreement to End Hostilities, and the Ashker civil rights class action lawsuit- forced CDCR to release people from solitary confinement SHUs.  The organizing prisoners brought international attention Continue reading

EMERGENCY ACTION ALERT: Demand CA Dept. of Corrections Release Drafters of the Agreement to End Hostilities from Solitary Confinement!

Emergency Action Alert:

RELEASE DRAFTERS OF THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

In October, 2017, the 2 year court monitoring period of the Ashker v. Governor settlement to limit solitary confinement in California expired. Since then, the four drafters of the Agreement to End Hostilities and lead hunger strike negotiators – Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, and Todd Ashker, have all been removed from general population and put in solitary in Administrative Segregation Units, based on fabricated information created by staff and/or collaborating “inmate informants.” In Todd Ashker’s case, he is being isolated “for his own protection,” although he does not ask for nor desire to be placed in isolation for this or any reason. Sitawa has been returned to population, but can still not have visitors.

Please contact CA Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) Secretary Scott Kernan and Governor Edmund G. Brown and demand CDCr:

Immediately release back into general population any of the four lead organizers still held in solitary

Return other Ashker class members to general population who have been placed in Ad Seg

Stop the retaliation against all Ashker class members and offer them meaningful rehabilitation opportunities

Contact Scott Kernan. He prefers mailed letters to 1515 S Street, Sacramento 95811. If you call 916-324-7308, press 0 for the Communications office. Email matthew.westbrook@cdcr.ca.gov and cc: scott.kernan@cdcr.ca.gov

Contact Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814; Phone: (916) 445-2841; Fax: (916) 558-3160; Email: https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/

As a result of the administrative reviews established after the second prisoner hunger strike in 2011 and the Ashker settlement of 2015, California’s SHU population has decreased from 3923 people in October 2012 to 537 in January 2018. Returning these four men and many other hunger strikers back to solitary in the form of Ad Seg represents an intentional effort to undermine the Agreement to End Hostilities and the settlement, and return to the lock ‘em up mentality of the 1980’s.

Sitawa writes: “What many of you on the outside may not know is the long sordid history of CDCr’s ISU [Institutional Services Unit]/ IGI [Institutional Gang Investigator]/Green Wall syndicate’s [organized groups of guards who act with impunity] pattern and practice, here and throughout its prison system, of retaliating, reprisals, intimidating, harassing, coercing, bad-jacketing [making false entries in prisoner files], setting prisoners up, planting evidence, fabricating and falsifying reports (i.e., state documents), excessive force upon unarmed prisoners, [and] stealing their personal property . . .”

CDCr officials are targeting the Ashker v. Governor class members to prevent them from being able to organize based on the Agreement to End Hostilities, and to obstruct their peaceful efforts to effect genuine changes – for rehabilitation, returning home, productively contributing to the improvement of their communities, and deterring recidivism.

Please help put a stop to this retaliation with impunity. Contact Kernan and Brown today:

Scott Kernan prefers mailed letters to 1515 S Street, Sacramento 95811. If you call 916-324-7308, press 0 for the Communications office. Email: matthew.westbrook@cdcr.ca.gov and cc: scott.kernan@cdcr.ca.gov

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814; Phone: (916) 445-2841; Fax: (916) 558-3160; Email: https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/

Read statements from the reps:

  Joint Statement from the 4 – Don’t let CDCR reverse our Hunger Strike-won legal victory

•  Sitawa – Brutha Sitawa: CDCr and Soledad Prison retaliate with false reports to return me to solitary confinement

•  Arturo – Statement by Arturo Castellanos

•  Todd – We stand together so prisoners never have to go through the years of torture we did (with Open Letter to Gov. Brown, CA legislators and CDCR Secretary Kernan)
Download and PRINT this 1-Page Emergency Action Alert.

FEB 23 RALLY & COURT HEARING: California Prisoners moved to “General Population” from SHU are STILL being held in Solitary Confinement

Please come out to show your support on February 23rd for people to be put in a true general population setting with regular access to yard, day room, programming, jobs, fresh air, phone, and other means of social interaction and environmental stimulation.

Rally with us and be in court for oral argument in this important hearing in Ashker v. Governor of California.

Friday, February 23, 2018
Phillip Burton Federal Courthouse, 450 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94012

12:00 pm: RALLY outside the SF Courthouse
1:00 pm: PACK THE COURTROOM, Courtroom #1, 17th Floor

Show the judge we still support those incarcerated in solitary/SHU-like conditions!

We will head inside the courthouse at 12:40pm. You must pass through a metal detector and present ID to enter the courthouse.

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/2011774719037446/

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) will be there! Feb 23- Oral Argument in Ashker v. Governor of CA

Stop the Torture

“My total out-of-cell time for the entire month was 16.83 hours”

To supporters of human rights,

On February 23, 2018 in San Francisco, an important motion will be heard in Ashker v. Governor (aka Ashker v. Brown), the federal class action lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement in California. As a result of the settlement in Ashker, over 1400 people were released from solitary confinement Security Housing Units (SHU) to what the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) calls “General Population.”  Yet, many of the class members released from SHU continue to suffer conditions of extreme isolation. Hardly ever getting out-of-cell time, they have been forced to spend as much or more time locked in their cells as when they were in SHU, with little to no rehabilitative or educational programming or social interaction with other people.

On February 23,  Jules Lobel, of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Ashker legal team, will be arguing a motion challenging these SHU-like general population units as a violation of the settlement agreement.

A prisoner who is no longer in SHU after 15 years, explains his new “general population” conditions at Calipatria:

“… Out of cell time is regularly cancelled or restricted. Yard time is scheduled 4 times per week, but is often available only 1 or 2 times per week. Showers and telephone calls, which are supposed to be available every other day, are infrequent, and we must choose one or the other. … I leave my cell for 20-25 minutes for breakfast, and many days, this is my only out-of-cell time. …The conditions in ‘general population’ in Calipatria are similar to SHU… I have limited social interaction and intellectual stimulation. I rarely go outside…I have difficulty maintaining relationships with my family especially since my ability to use the telephone is so infrequent and irregular. I suffer from insomnia. I suffer from anxiety that I feel is directly linked to the irregular programming: I am anxious because I do not know what will happen next.”

Carol Strickman, of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and the Ashker legal team, states:

“On Friday, February 23, the San Francisco district court magistrate will hear argument on our motion regarding the isolated conditions that many of our class members are experiencing in the Level IV maximum security prisons that they were transferred to. Their conditions are so extreme that our correctional expert states, ‘These prisoners are not actually in what reasonably may be considered general population: rather, they are in a form of restrictive housing as these terms are commonly understood within the corrections profession.’ We are encouraging interested parties to attend the hearing.”

RALLY AT 12PM before the hearing, outside of the courthouse
HEARING AT 1PM in Courtroom 1, on the 17th floor. (Remember to bring ID)

Please pass this message on to fellow supporters of human rights who may be able to attend on the 23rd. Check the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website for upcoming details on a postcard campaign to further support the Ashker class members. https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

If you have transportation needs or offers for the Feb 23 Rally and Court Hearing, please email phssreachingout@gmail.com or call 510-426-5322 as soon as possible.

Solitary Confinement is Torture.

Hunger Strike in Riverside County Jails begins April 13, 2017

Announcement from prisoners in Robert Presley Detention Center (Jail) Administrative Segregation (Solitary Confinement)  Download pdf here

The following is in regards to a peaceful protest in the form of an organized hunger strike in the Riverside County Jails.  Said hunger strike will begin at breakfast April 13, 2017 and end at breakfast May 1, 2017 a total of 17 days.

First off, allow us to stress the fact that by no means is this to be considered an attempt to promote or benefit any form of gang, nor is this to be considered gang activity. This is a peaceful request/call for action to all, regardless of race, creed, and classification. This pertains to all prisoners held in Riverside County Jails. We all serve to benefit from any success that may transpire as a result of our collective efforts.

With this in mind we are now reaching out to all like-minded prisoners who are willing and interested in banding together in a united stance of solidarity in order to bring about meaningful forms of change. We respectfully ask anybody that is not taking part in the strike to respect our efforts and show other forms of support by not accepting extra county food. We all have a stake and common interest. In preparation we encourage you to inform and involve your friends and family, have them show their support by calling the jail during our hunger strike to voice their concerns, ask that they get our message out to social media and traditional media and by reaching out to prisoners support organizations to help further push and inspire our efforts.

It is truly in our best interest to see this through. If you are unable to hold out for the entire 17 days that’s ok, just do your best. But in order for your sacrifice and supportive efforts to be acknowledged as a hunger strike you must refuse 9 straight meals over a course of 3 days so we ask that, at the very minimum, you hold out for at least 4 full days.

Familiarize yourself with the compiled list of demands and core issues. That way if you are asked why you are not eating, you will be able to explain that a hunger strike is a peaceful protest and the reasoning behind it. The administration cannot call off our hunger strike or punish us for our protest so don’t allow them to use intimidation and harassment tactics to discourage or mislead. Remember, we are doing the right thing. With that said please get the word out.

Respectfully with strength and solidarity,
Riverside County prisoners

–Number to reach Riverside County Sheriff:
(951) 955-2400 PRESS OPTION 4

–Number for Robert Presley Jail:
951. 955.4500 press 1 then 8

–For more information about the hunger strike:
Nancy at 951.456.1431

–Email for Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS):
prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com
Phone number for PHSS: 510.426.5322

–Updates on the hunger strike will be available on instagram:
#Riverside County Prisoners

Our specific goals/purposes are reflected in the following list of demands/core issues.

1. End: Frivolous and irrelevant policies.

    Solution:
A. Cease and desist enforcing frivolous policies limiting phone access due to state change.
B. Issue and or display random dayroom list in ad-seg.
C. Increase ad-seg dayroom time to one hour.
D. Remove no-see tint from cell windows.

2. End: Placement in solitary confinement when there exists no serious rule violations to merit such placement.
a. Prohibit the use of long-term/indefinite solitary confinement.
b. Prohibit the use of solitary confinement based solely on gang allegations, affiliation, validation, etc.

    Solution:
A. Determine classification of housing based on individual behavior.
B. Allow a genuine opportunity to be down classed and integrated to general population through a modified group and dayroom program.
C. Jail officials read Ashker v Gov of California Settlement Terms.

3. End: Denial of adequate clothing to inmates.

    Solution:
A. Establish policy that promotes proper hygiene.
B. Provide two sets of all clothes.

4. End: Jail profiteering and exploitation of prisoners and our families through commissary and trust accounts.

    Solution:
A. Waive the fee associated with putting money on a prisoner’s account.
B. Set commissary prices equal to or cheaper than those set in CDCR e.g. 97 cents for a top ramen soup is outrageous.

5. Provide opportunities for religious services, self help, and educational programs.

IN ADDITION TO THE ABOVE DEMANDS

1. End: Housing mental health prisoners with regular prisoners.

2. Establish accountability for each grievance to catalog the concern.

Indefinite Solitary Confinement Ends in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center / Death Row

Links to the articles and radio interview in this post:

______________________

Indefinite Solitary Confinement Ends at San Quentin

on Death Penalty Focus Blog / March 10, 2017

Death row inmates will no longer be kept in indefinite solitary confinement in San Quentin State Prison, it was announced Monday [March 6]. The agreement was part of a settlement of a 2015 lawsuit filed on behalf of six inmates who were held indefinitely in what is called an “adjustment center” because they were suspected of being gang members. When the lawsuit was filed, there were some 100 inmates being held in the adjustment center. Since then, the number has fluctuated from around 10 to 22 inmates.

“Basically, these guys were housed there for 23 hours a day,” says Oakland attorney Dan Siegel, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the six inmates. “They got one hour three times a week in the yard. They had no human contact. The cells were like closed boxes, no windows. And they’ve been there for years and years. It takes a toll — emotionally, psychologically, and physically.”

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