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

Links to the articles and radio interview in this post:

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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.”

Continue reading

Report back from Prisoner Representatives’ first monitoring meeting with CDCR

published by the Center for Constitutional Rights
May 23, 2016

Last September, in Ashker v. Governor of California, California prisoners reached an historic settlement agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) that is bringing an end to indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons. The Settlement Agreement includes hard-won (and unprecedented) periodic meetings between the CDCR and the prisoners who initiated the lawsuit and led the protests against long term solitary confinement. Below is a report back from the first of these meetings, from lead plaintiff in the case and prisoner representative, Todd Ashker.

I was very pleased to participate in this historic meeting with CDCR officials, which we negotiated in our Settlement Agreement.  I think it is the first time that representatives of prisoners have had this kind of discussion with leaders of any correction department; it is certainly the only time it has happened here in California, the world’s largest prison system.  We were especially pleased that high-ranking prison officials were at the meeting.

At the beginning of this first meeting, it became clear that there was a misunderstanding about its function.  CDCR thought the meeting was for us to listen to them.  Why would we put a term into our Settlement that would have us listen to them?  We listen to them every second of our lives.   We see the purpose of these calls as an opportunity for us to be heard and to have a discussion with people in authority.

Despite this initial confusion, we were able to lead the meeting. CDCR got unfiltered information from prisoners who know what is going on in their prison cells and yards.  We are a leadership group the CDCR knows.  They know we have integrity.  The information we shared at the meeting came not only from the experiences of us four main reps, but also from the other veterans of the SHU, members of our class who have written and met with our attorneys.

We raised in strong terms that some of us who have made it to General Population yards are essentially in modified SHUs (Security Housing Units), in some respects worse than Pelican Bay SHU, although in some respects better.   Conditions, policies and practices that we are experiencing in some of the General Population yards are not what we expected when we settled our case.  After spending decades in solitary we cannot accept many of these conditions.  Too many prisoners are simply warehoused, and there are not enough jobs or programs to give us skills, engage our minds and prepare us to return to our communities.  Guards need training in ‘professional’ behavior.   Bullying and humiliation should never be tolerated.

CDCR may have been surprised at the tenor, strength and substance of our approach.   We expect at the next meeting, we will all understand the agenda and purpose well ahead of time.   We also think a longer meeting will allow for a full discussion and useful interaction.  We hope CDCR officials come to welcome these historic meetings as useful because they will be if prisoners’ perspectives are heard, used and received by them.

“Our movement rests on a foundation of unity: our Agreement to End Hostilities.” [VIDEO included]

Statement of plaintiffs on settlement of Ashker v. Governor of California

Dated Aug. 31, 2015

This settlement represents a monumental victory for prisoners and an important step toward our goal of ending solitary confinement in California, and across the country.  California’s agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action.  This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters.

Our movement rests on a foundation of unity: our Agreement to End Hostilities.  It is our hope that this groundbreaking agreement to end the violence between the various ethnic groups in California prisons will inspire not only state prisoners, but also jail detainees, county prisoners and our communities on the street, to oppose ethnic and racial violence.  From this foundation, the prisoners’ human rights movement is awakening the conscience of the nation to recognize that we are fellow human beings.  As the recent statements of President Obama and of Justice Kennedy illustrate, the nation is turning against solitary confinement. We celebrate this victory while, at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle.  We are fully committed to that effort, and invite you to join us.

Todd Ashker
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa
Luis Esquivel
George Franco
Richard Johnson
Paul Redd
Gabriel Reyes
George Ruiz
Danny Troxell

“This litigation was led by the plaintiffs – those held in the SHU – from the beginning, not the lawyers, who properly understood their role as carrying out the strategy of those they represented to fight for their release and further their movement. It should be studied.”  Bret Grote, Attorney, Abolitionist Law Center

After decades in solitary they joined forces. Here’s what happened.

Solitary Confinement: A “Social Death” ––– New York Times on “Shocking” Data from Lawsuit [VIDEO included]

New York Times video:
Effects of Solitary Confinement

by Colin Archdeacon and Center for Constitutional Rights
Aug. 3, 2015
People imprisoned in Pelican Bay State Prison describe their experiences in long-term solitary confinement http://www.nytimes.com/video/science/100000003831139/effects-of-solitary-confinement.html

Today’s New York Times science section features a front-page piece about the research that CCR commissioned and compiled for our ground-breaking challenge to long-term solitary confinement. … 10 expert reports we submitted to the court in Ashker v. Brown, the class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners in solitary in California’s Pelican Bay prison. …
According to the expert reports, prisoners subjected to prolonged solitary experience a form of “social death” that is not cured upon release, but rather lingers as a “post-SHU syndrome” characterized by social withdrawal, isolation, and anxiety. …
The international and domestic experts agree that such prolonged isolation is not only unnecessary for prison security, but actually counter-productive, as well as a violation of international law. …
By bringing public scrutiny to the severe physical and psychological harm our clients and so many others are suffering as a result of their isolation, we hope to continue turning the tide against this form of torture until it is eradicated from the U.S. once and for all.  Read entire Center for Constitutional Rights article here: https://ccrjustice.org/home/blog/2015/08/04/solitary-confinement-social-death-nyt-shocking-data-ccr-case

New York Times article:
Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life

July 23rd Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement- Locations & Details

Thursday, July 23 ACTIONS by location (alphabetical order)

Arcata/Bayside, CA – Boston, MA – Chicago, IL – Culver City / Los Angeles, CA – Naples, FL – New York, NY – Oakland, CA – Philadelphia, PA – Pittsburgh, PA – San Diego, CA – San Jose, CA– Santa Cruz, CA – Santa Monica, CA – Thunderclap (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr)

If you don’t see your locale listed here, click HERE to read the entire post.  If you still don’t see your locale, we haven’t received the details yet or YOU just might need to organize a simple action where you are!!

Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) has a PHSS Facebook Event page.  SCATESC’s growing list of Co-sponsors and Endorsers is below.

July 23 Locations & Details (so far)

ARCATA / BAYSIDE, CA:
BreakingDownTheBox_July23 FlyerOn Thursday evening, July 23rd, come to the Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship to watch the excellent new film ‘Breaking Down the Box’ (40 min). We’ll have refreshments and discussion afterwards with KHS
U radio host Sista Soul and other special guests! The film event is hosted by the Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Social Action Committee and PARC, Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community (Eureka).

Earlier in the day (location & time will be posted soon), join us in Arcata. We’ll hand out literature for people to get educated and involved now to STOP THE TORTURE that is solitary confinement.  We will also be promoting the Agreement to End Hostilities.

HERE‘s the Arcata flier!
Arcata Action Details
Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm PST
Location: The Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 24 Fellowship Way, Bayside, CA  95524
For more info, call  707-267-4249
Contact Name: Verbena
Contact Email: phssreachingout@gmail.com
Facebook event
: https://www.facebook.com/events/1607915476127367/

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS:
The Coalition for Effective Public Safety – CEPS is engaging in public actions the 23rd of each month to bring attention to the 80,000+ people held in solitary confinement across the U.S. on any given day and to end solitary confinement. This date emphasizes the 23 or more hours every day that people are kept in solitary confinement. Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) has helped launch statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement in California following the Pelican Bay hunger strike initiated in 2013 by people incarcerated there in response to the deplorable conditions they were being held in. Monthly actions began in California in March 2015, and we started here in Massachusetts in June 2015.

Massachusetts is one of only three states where prisoners who commit disciplinary infractions can be placed in solitary confinement for up to ten years, even though the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a ban on any solitary confinement that lasts longer than fifteen days.

This month we are hosting a documentary screening outside about solitary confinement. More details will be posted here soon.
Massachusetts Action Details

Time and Location: will be posted here soon
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Coalition-for-Effective-Public-Safety-CEPS/353915588130873
Contact person: Rachel Corey
For info or to help plan future actions: director@cjpc.org

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS:
The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) estimates that 2,500 – 3,000 people are held in solitary confinement in Illinois on any given day. The Federal Bureau of Prisons plans to open Thomson Supermax Prison in Thomson, IL by the end of the year, bringing 1,500 new solitary cells to the state.

The United Nations considers solitary confinement beyond 15 days torture and has called for its absolute prohibition. Many people in Illinois and throughout the US have spent decades in solitary. We say NO MORE.

All those opposed to solitary confinement are invited to rally on July 23rd outside the Thompson Center, home of IDOC before marching to the Federal Building. We demand an end to the torturous practice in Illinois, by both the state and federal government. We demand that the Illinois legislature hold a hearing to investigate solitary confinement, or what they call “Segregation” or “Administrative Detention”. We demand Thomson close its doors, as Tamms did 2.5 years ago.

This action is in solidarity with anti-solitary activists in California who have been organizing actions, events, teach-ins, and more on the 23rd of every month as part of a statewide campaign to end solitary confinement. They’ve chosen the 23rd of the month because people held in solitary spend at least 23 hours/day in isolation.
___________________________________
Learn more!  Read about Uptown People’s Law Center’s lawsuit against IDOC for their overuse of solitary confinement. Here’s
more info on Thomson Supermax. 
Chicago Action Details
Time: 5:00pm – 6:30pm CDT
Location: RALLY @
Thompson Center, 100 W Randolph St, Chicago, Illinois 60601, MARCH to Federal Building
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/511219215692757/

CULVER CITY / LOS ANGELES, CA:
July23_ LA
Two years have passed since people confined in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison initiated (on July 8) a 60-day hunger strike to protest the conditions associated with the prison’s “security housing unit,” or SHU.  Four years have passed since the initial hunger strike began on July 1.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) continues to claim that “there is no ‘solitary confinement’ in California’s prisons and the SHU is not ‘solitary confinement,'” but people inside the Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit say they remain locked in for at least 23 hours per day.

At this event, we will present If the SHU Fits-Voices from Solitary Confinement, and follow with a session to:
* Share Stories
* Discuss Strategies to make meaningful change and
* Take Action!

“If the SHU Fits” is produced by Dramastage Qumran, LA Laborfest, & Public Works Improvisational Theatre, and supported by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS).

The event is a part of the Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement, a call by prisoners in solitary to their supporters outside to STOP THE TORTURE with events on the 23rd of each month, signifying the number of hours prisoners are kept in solitary.
HERE‘s the Culver City/LA flier!
Culver City Action Details
Time: 7:30pm – 9:30pm PST
Location: Peace Center, West 3916 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, CA90230
Contact person: Andy Griggs

For info, call 310-704-3217 or email lalaborfest@gmail.com
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1453616404940842/

NAPLES, FLORIDA:
Demonstration in front of the Collier County Jail on the 23rd to End Solitary Confinement.  Details will be posted here soon!

NEW YORK, NY:
Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement invites you to a RALLY at UNION SQUARE on July 23rd.  (Meet by steps on  south side, by E. 14th and Broadway)

Every day in New York prisons and jails, there are more than 5,000 people in solitary confinement and other forms of extreme isolation. There, they spend 23 hours a day locked in a cell about the size of an elevator. In isolated confinement, people are left with nothing to do, no programs, no one to talk to, and no human touch. In these torturous conditions, people experience intense suffering and, often, severe psychological and physical damage. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture determined that keeping a person in solitary more than 15 days is torture; New York regularly holds people in solitary for months and years, and sometimes decades.

Join us on the 23rd of every month in the fight to end solitary confinement. We are joining allies around the country who are holding monthly actions based on the recommendation of people incarcerated in Pelican Bay prison who led the momentous hunger strikes in California.

People in solitary need you.
Together we can HALT solitary confinement and end torture in New York State.
New York City Action Details
Time: 6:00pm EST
Location: Union Square- meet by steps on south side, by E. 14th and Broadway
Contact email: caicny@gmail.com
Website: http://nycaic.org/

OAKLAND, CA:
Thursday evening, July 23rd, the San Francisco MIME TROUPE will perform at Oakland’s Lake Merritt in back of the bandstand.

Please come volunteer to help set up the model SHU (mock solitary confinement cell) beginning at 3:30 PM.

We will distribute information and people can get a feel for the small space that 10’s of thousands of people are confined to 23+ hours a day, often for years.

Please call Penny (cell:  415-412-1969) to let us know if you can be with us for this important date. As the trial in the Pelican Bay class action lawsuit approaches in December, the public needs to know current news and see the model SHU again.

END LONG TERM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT !!
Oakland Action Details
Time: 3:30pm– Set up mock SHU
           5:00pm– Distribute literature and show mock SHU
Location: Lake Merritt, in back of Edoff Memorial Band Stand, Oakland, CA 94610
Contact email: phssreachingout@gmail.com

Contact person: Penny
For more info, call 415-412-1969

Continue reading

Statewide Actions Against Solitary Confinement Grow as They Enter Third Month

Media Advisory – May 20, 2015

Statewide Actions against Solitary Confinement Grow as they Enter Third Month

Contact: Mohamed Shehk 408.910.2618, mohamed@criticalresistance.org  Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

When:  Saturday, May 23, 2015 – and the 23rd of each month thereafter.

Time: All day, depending on location (see below for specifics)

What:   Community organizations, families and loved ones of people in solitary, and advocates across California will be mobilizing a day of Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement each month. These mobilizations are a response to a proposal from prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison involved in the 2011 and 2013 Hunger Strikes, who put forward the idea of designating a day each month as Prisoner Rights Day.

“Our outside supporters have all of our gratitude; their tireless efforts supportive of our cause make a giant positive difference,” says Todd Ashker, a prisoner who has been in solitary at Pelican Bay State Prison for over two decades, and a lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against California for the use of solitary confinement. “They have recently begun monthly supportive actions—across the state—publicly rallying on the 23rd of each month for the purpose of keeping the subject of our endless torture in public view, and thereby exposed to the world. The 23rd of each month is symbolic of our 23+ hours per day in these tombs-of-the-living-dead—and it is hoped such rallies will spread across the nation.”

Where: Various locations across California, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Jose, Oakland, Arcata, San Francisco and others. For a complete list with information, please see prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/may-23rd-statewide-coordinated-actions-to-end-solitary-confinement-locations-details/#more-6225

Who:    The actions are being organized by groups with the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS), and are endorsed by over 30 community groups and organizations from California, and around the nation and world.

Why:    The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) refuses to respect basic human rights by continuing to keep people isolated in cells, often for years upon years, despite international condemnation calling on California to end its practice of solitary confinement. Solitary confinement has been defined as torture by the U.N., yet the U.S. puts more people in solitary and for longer periods than any other country, and California continues to be an outlier in the U.S. California continues to use the practice in violation of international law and, as many believe, in violation of the U.S.’s policy against cruel and unusual punishment.

These coordinated actions seek to build organized, community-based pressure outside prison walls, and to amplify the demands of prisoners who continue to call for the end of torture.

Spokespeople will be available to speak with media at all locations. For more information, please visit prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com

Mohamed Shehk
Media and Communications Director
Critical Resistance
1904 Franklin St, Suite 504
Oakland, CA 94612
510.444.0484

Why The U.S. Won’t Let the U.N. Look Inside Its Prisons

After a half-decade and a mandate by the U.N. to investigate solitary confinement practices, U.N. torture rapporteur Juan Mendez had to find a backdoor into an American jail. Today, his findings are released in a report.

In 2010, Juan Mendez was appointed Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Degrading and Inhumane Treatment by the United Nations. His mandate is wide in size and scope—to expose and document torture wherever it exists on the planet today.

Since the beginning of his mandate Mendez has made criticizing the overuse of solitary confinement a priority. In 2011, he issued a report stating that 22 or 23 hours a day alone in a prison cell for more than 15 days at a time can cause permanent, lasting psychological damage and can constitute torture.

This problem, he emphasized, is particularly severe in the U.S., where prisoners are routinely held under such conditions for months, years and even decades at a time. Many have never committed a violent crime.

Fast-forward five years. The U.S. government has yet to grant Mendez access to a single isolation pod in any U.S. prison. The clock is ticking. Mendez has a mere 20 months left of his term, and he has yet been able to substantiate his reports with a firsthand investigation.

“The U.S. was voted into the Human Rights Council—a position that carries with it an obligation to cooperate,” he says. When he speaks, Mendez wears a look of weary determination befitting of his post.

“I’m disappointed to still be waiting for the State Department to respond to my request. I’ve been waiting over two years.”

“That fact that he hasn’t received a response is contemptible,” says Laura Rovner, legal expert on prison conditions from University of Denver. “It puts the U.S. in the company of countries like Syria, Pakistan, and Russia that also have been unresponsive to requests for country visits.”

“Given the length of the delay,” Rovner continues. “You have to wonder about the reason, whether it’s motivated by concerns about what the Special Rapporteur will find inside these prisons.”

Then suddenly, last December, Mendez was allowed access to California’s Pelican Bay State Prison—a facility known for keeping inmates in isolation indefinitely in its Security Housing Unit (SHU).

This visit did not come about through the official channels Mendez had long been appealing to, however. Instead, he found a way in to one of the most notorious prisons in the country through a kind of backdoor.

Continue reading

Successful Motion in Court Strengthens CA Prisoners’ Case Against Solitary

For Immediate Release – March 10, 2015
Press Contact: Mohamed Shehk, Critical Resistance – 408.910.2618mohamed@criticalresistance.org

Oakland, CA – Pelican Bay prisoners named as plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the use of solitary confinement in California gained an important victory yesterday as U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of a motion filed by the plaintiffs’ counsel. The motion allows prisoners who have been in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, but have been transferred out of Pelican Bay State Prison since the lawsuit was first filed, to be eligible as class members in the case.

Our success with this motion should be a strong message to the prison administration that its attempts to evade court review of its unconstitutional practices,” says Carol Strickman, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and Staff Attorney at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. “Our goal in this case is to support the demand of prisoners to end the inhumane use of indefinite solitary, and no amount of legal shell games is going to stop us from achieving that goal.”

In June 2014, the court granted class action status to the case for prisoners held in Pelican Bay’s notorious Security Housing Units (SHU) for more than 10 years. Since then, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has attempted to weaken the case and repress political organizing by transferring prisoners out of Pelican Bay, thereby claiming that they are no longer eligible class members in the lawsuit. Continue reading

Feb. 12, 2015: Important Hearing in SHU Lawsuit

In Ashker v. Brown, we will prove that ten years in solitary confinement in the Pelican Bay SHU is cruel and unusual punishment (violating the 8th Amendment).

In an end-run around our lawsuit, CDCR has been transferring hundreds of prisoners out of that SHU.  This is good news for some, but many prisoners are simply being transferred to other SHUs, most notably to Tehachapi.  Four of our ten named plaintiffs have been moved there.  Because the judge previously defined our 8th Amendment class as prisoners presently at Pelican Bay SHU for ten years or more, these plaintiffs and others are no longer considered part of the class.

In response, we recently filed a motion to expand the reach of the solitary confinement lawsuit to include prisoners who have spent 10 years or more at Pelican Bay SHU but have recently been transferred to other California SHUs.
As we wrote:

“the cruel and unusual treatment they experienced, and its debilitating effects, have not abated, but instead continue under a different name in a different prison.”

CDCR should not be able to thwart our 8th Amendment claim by transferring these long-suffering prisoners to a different SHU.  These prisoners should be released from SHU, not moved to a different SHU.  Granting our motion will give the court jurisdiction over these prisoners so that, when we succeed at trial, they will be included in the relief that the court orders.

Please attend the hearing on Plaintiffs’ (Prisoners’) Motion to Amend the Complaint.  Your presence in the courtroom shows the judge that we care and are paying attention to decisions made about the torture in the SHU.

DATE: Thursday,  Feb. 12, 2015
TIME: 2:00 p.m.
ADDRESS: U.S. District Court in Oakland, 1301 Clay Street (federal courthouse)
COURTROOM: Dept. #2,  4th Floor, Hon. Claudia Wilken, presiding


Information explaining the motion came from Carol Strickman,Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children and Co-Counsel for Plaintiffs in Ashker v. Brown

NY Times Article on Pelican Bay Class Action Lawsuit, June 3, 2014

Judge’s Decision to Hear Inmates’ Case Threatens Practice of Solitary Confinement

…. Legal experts say that the ruling, which allows inmates at Pelican Bay who have been held in solitary confinement for more than a decade to sue as a class, paves the way for a court case that could shape national policy on the use of long-term solitary confinement. …

The use of solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, the lawsuit contends, is so extreme that it “renders California an outlier in this country and in the civilized world.”

Read the entire NYT article by Erica Goode  HERE