At a Glance
The case reached settlement on September 1, 2015, ending indeterminate solitary confinement in California. In 2019 and again in 2022, the court ruled that constitutional violations continue and ordered additional years of monitoring. Both of those extensions were appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and on August 24, 2023 they found in favor of CDCR and reversed the extension rulings. Plaintiffs have filed for rehearing en banc.
California Prison Focus, Bremer Law Group, ACLU, Law Firm of Charles Carbone, Gregory Hull, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Siegel & Yee, Matthew Strugar, Sam Miller, Rebecca Rabkin, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP
Ashker v. Governor of California is a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners held in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent a decade or more in solitary confinement. The case charges that prolonged solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violates the prisoners’ rights to due process. The legal action is part of a larger movement to reform conditions in SHUs in Calfornia’s prisons that was sparked by hunger strikes by thousands of SHU prisoners in 2011 and 2013; the named plaintiffs in Ashker include several leaders and participants from the hunger strikes. The case is part of CCR’s broader efforts to challenge mass incarceration, discrimination, and abusive prison policies.
SHU prisoners spend 22 ½ to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell. They are denied telephone calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational, or educational programming. Hundreds of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners have been isolated under these conditions for over 10 years and dozens for more than 20 years, causing harmful and predictable psychological deterioration. In fact, solitary confinement for as little as 15 days is now widely recognized to cause lasting psychological damage and can constitute torture under international law.
In addition, the suit charges that prisoners are denied any meaningful review of their SHU placement. California, alone among all 50 states and most other jurisdictions, imposes extremely prolonged solitary confinement based merely on a prisoner’s alleged association with a prison gang. Gang “affiliation” is assessed without considering whether a prisoner is – or ever was – actually involved in gang activity.
Ashker v. Governor of California amended an earlier pro se lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay SHU prisoners Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell. The case is before Judge Claudia Wilken in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.