Activism Needed to Remedy Solitary Conditions in Prisons, Civil Rights Attorneys Say
March 28, 2018, Oakland, CA – Today, a federal judge declined to order the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to move prisoners previously held in Security Housing Units (SHU) into legitimate general population conditions. Under a landmark class action settlement that was intended to effectively end indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, nearly 1500 prisoners were released into the general prison population, many to Level IV prisons, which is the highest security level in general population. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that, because these facilities are so restrictive, transfer to highly restrictive conditions in Level IV prisons does not satisfy requirements under the settlement that the prisoners be moved to the general population.
“The court did not dispute the extent of the restriction and isolation in Level IV facilities, but did conclude that the matter is not governed by the settlement agreement,” said lead counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights Jules Lobel. “Fortunately, there is a powerful coalition in California working to end solitary confinement and unconstitutional prison conditions. The court may have declined to intervene. Now the people must get the job done.”
Prisoners report that the conditions in Level IV prisons mirror those in the Security Housing Units (SHUs) from which they were released, with comparably restricted social interaction, outdoor time, programming, and contact with family and friends. Many prisoners transferred to Level IV facilities spend the same or even more time isolated in their cells than they did in the SHU—often 22-24 hours per day. The men have also reported similar levels of anxiety, insomnia, and other psychological conditions. According to expert witness and former Secretary for the Washington State Department of Corrections Eldon Vail, many prisoners who were transferred out of the SHU into Level IV “general population” units receive the “lowest amount of out-of-cell time [Vail has] seen in [his] career as a corrections administrator and as a consultant/expert witness.”
CCR and co-counsel also have asked the court to extend the terms of the settlement agreement by an additional year because substantial reforms are still needed and the CDCR continues to violate the constitutional rights of class members. The requested extension came concurrently with the release of the first-ever in-depth report, by researchers from the Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Lab at Stanford University, detailing the ongoing negative health consequences prisoners have suffered following their release from long-term solitary confinement. Argument on the extension request will be held in the summer.
For more information, visit CCR’s case page.