From Truth Out/ By Victoria Law
Attorneys and family members announced on September 1 what they called a “landmark settlement” in the class-action lawsuit Ashker v. Governor of California. The settlement, stated lead attorney Jules Lobel, “is an important step in the growing movement to end solitary confinement.”
The settlement comes after months of negotiations between advocates and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). It also comes after years of agitation, including a lawsuit and three mass prison hunger strikes, aimed at ending California’s practice of placing prisoners in isolation for indeterminate periods of time. Advocates predict that between 1,500 and 2,000 people will be released from isolation in the coming months.
At issue is California’s security housing units (or SHU) and its practice of placing those accused of gang affiliation within these units for an indeterminate time period. Within the SHU, they are locked into windowless cells for at least 23 hours per day. When taken out of their cells – for a shower, a visit or an hour of recreation alone in an exercise pen – they are handcuffed and ankle chained. Two categories of people are placed in the SHU. Those who break prison rules are temporarily sent to the SHU for up to five years. The other category includes those who have been placed in isolation on accusations of gang involvement. For them, there is no fixed end date. Until recently, accusations that have landed them in the SHU often relied on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence, such as tattoos or associations with others. Until recently, one of the few ways to be released from the SHU was to “debrief” or provide information incriminating others, who are then placed in the SHU for an indeterminate sentence. They are the ones who have written manifestoes, filed lawsuits and repeatedly gone on hunger strike to protest their conditions of confinement.
In California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, 1,134 of its 1,181 prisoners were held in the SHU as of June 2015. Although CDCR insists that solitary confinement does not exist within its prison system, those within the SHU argue otherwise and, in 2012, went to court to prove it. (more…)