Unconstitutional Solitary Confinement Continues, Prisoners’ Attorneys Say

New Conditions Mirror What Landmark Settlement Sought to End

February 23, 2018, Oakland – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel asked a federal judge to order the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to comply with a landmark, class action settlement that was intended to effectively end indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons. Under the settlement, nearly 1500 prisoners were released into general population. However, hundreds of these transfers were to extremely restrictive “Level IV” prisons, the highest security level in general population. The motion argued today says that this violates the terms of the settlement because Level IV general population units essentially mirror conditions in the Security Housing Units (SHUs) from which the prisoners were released.

“The conditions in ‘general population’ are similar to SHU… I have limited social interaction, and intellectual stimulation. I rarely go outside. It is difficult to find productive uses for my time. I have difficulty maintaining relationships with my family… I suffer from insomnia [and] anxiety…” class member Luis Esquivel reported in a declaration.

Testimonials show that hundreds of prisoners moved from SHU to Level IV general population are experiencing similar conditions, with many spending the same or even more time isolated in their cells than they were in the SHU—often 22-24 hours per day. They continue to be denied sufficient outdoor time, programming, jobs, and other means of social interaction and environmental stimulation. 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.”

“To avoid violating prisoners’ constitutional rights, the CDCR must do more than move prisoners to units called ‘general population,’” said lead counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jules Lobel. “Prisoners’ conditions must actually avoid the torturous effects of solitary confinement that the settlement sought to end.”

In November, CCR and co-counsel asked the court to extend the terms of the settlement agreement by an additional year because substantial reforms were still needed and the CDCR was continuing 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.

For more information, visit CCR’s 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.


Last modified 

February 26, 2018