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.

PRISONERS UNITED IN SANTA CLARA COUNTY JAILS WIN 5 CORE DEMANDS & SACRIFICE 3 DAYS OF CUSTODY MEALS FOR THE HUNGRY

PRESS: JOSE (408) 661-2604 jose@siliconvalleydebug.org
FAMILIES: BENEE (408) 529-5971 benee@siliconvalleydebug.org

10/25/17

Though a hunger strike in Santa Clara County jails could have been avoided after jail administrators agreed to meet the core demands during the week of October 16, 2017 — Prisoners United on every floor of the Main Jail and M-5 and M-8 lockdown units in Elmwood D.O.C. refused custody meals in protest of Sheriff Smith’s insulting comment in the media. On October 19th, when asked about the possible hunger strike and jail conditions, Sheriff Smith told San Jose Inside, “We do not allow gangs to run the jails—and some of them could stand to lose a little weight. We will give their fresh food to the Salvation Army again. There are hungry people who committed no crimes and deserve a dinner.”


On October 22, 2017, Prisoners United reverted to the hunger strike to demand accountability from Sheriff Smith of Santa Clara County to do as she claimed and donate refused meals to the hungry and homeless community at the Salvation Army who are in fact largely gang impacted, overcoming drug and alcohol dependency and formerly incarcerated
. In addition, Prisoners United demanded accountability from Sheriff Smith to courageously make public the efforts between jail administrators, community organizations and the jail population to come to an agreement to meet the core demands. Unfortunately, Sheriff Smith’s comment carried a tone to rogue deputies and sergeants who responded with lockdowns, shakedowns, and canceled family visits.

Prisoners United sacrificed 3 days of custody meals to see to it that all custody meals, including their prepared cooked meals will in fact be donated. Although Sheriff Smith tweeted donating non-perishable lunch box custody meals to the Emmanuel House Salvation Army earlier on Monday October 23, 2017; prepared custody meals have been confirmed to have been thrown away or given as an incentive to non-participants. There are still remains challenges of any public mention of  the efforts between jail administrators, community organizations and the jail population to come to an agreement to meet the core demands, nor a written document to of said agreement.

For clarity, Prisoners United protest of Sheriff Smith’s comments ended on the evening of October 24, 2017 and is slowly trickling down to every floor in the Main Jail as days pass. The M-8 lockdown unit in Elmwood D.O.C.’s first meal after a 3 day strike was their prepared cooked dinner meal at 4:00PM on October 25, 2017. The 6C Sureno unit in the Main Jail will still continue their hunger strike until an agreement is made with jail administrators to end their protective custody status in their classification file.


Silicon Valley De-Bug thanks Prisoners United on every floor in the Main Jail and housing units M-5 and M-8 in Elmwood D.O.C. for courageously sacrificing all their custody meals to be donated to the homeless and hungry at Emmanuel House Salvation Army. We also appreciate all efforts made between jail administrators, community organizations and the jail population to come to an agreement to meet the 5 core demands to end meaningless classification reviews, indefinite solitary confinement, group punishment, cruel and unusual punishment during out of cell time, and rigid visitation policies.

FACTS THAT REFUTE SHERIFF SMITH’S COMMENT:

  • Over 70% of the Santa Clara County jail population is pretrial – meaning they have not been convicted of a crime.
  • Being in jail does not automatically mean someone is a gang member, according to the JFA Institute Jail Classification System Evaluation audit prepared by James Austin in 2016, there is only 21 verified prison gang members in Santa Clara County.
  • Prisoners United of Silicon Valley is the collective voice of the entire Santa Clara County jail population including all classification/security levels, color tops, racial groups (Black, White, Asian, Latino, Pacific Islander etc.) and creeds and is not lead by one man alone.
  • Salvation Army is a tremendous community resource for those in need, including programs for those who have been convicted of a crime.
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FURTHER DETAILS/CLARIFICATIONS:

Santa Clara County jail administrators came to an agreement to meet the 5 core demands to end meaningless classification reviews, indefinite solitary confinement, group punishment, cruel and unusual punishment during out of cell time, and rigid visitation policies. However, the administration stated it will take 3 weeks for the new classification system to kick in.

According to the agreement, the classification system will have face-to-face hearings, opportunity for prisoners to call witnesses to speak in their defense, the use of things such as education and rehabilitation certificates to have influence on their hearings, and the opportunity to contest anything.

The administration also agreed to suspend all in-custody inputs until the new system is in place. i

 

Prisoners in the jails should also be able to see what is in their file.

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