CA Prisoners Win Historic Gains with Settlement Against Solitary Confinement

Posted on September 1, 2015 by prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity

Agreement reached in Ashker v. Brown ends indeterminate long-term solitary confinement in CA, among other gains for prisoners

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 1, 2015
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Oakland – Today, California prisoners locked in isolation achieved a groundbreaking legal victory in their ongoing struggle against the use of solitary confinement. A settlement was reached in the federal class action suit Ashker v. Brown, originally filed in 2012, effectively ending indefinite long-term solitary confinement, and greatly limiting the prison administration’s ability to use the practice, widely seen as a form of torture. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of prisoners held in Pelican Bay State Prison’s infamous Security Housing Units (SHU) for more than 10 years, where they spend 23 hours a day or more in their cells with little to no access to family visits, outdoor time, or any kind of programming.

“From the historic prisoner-led hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013, to the work of families, loved ones, and advocate, this settlement is a direct result of our grassroots organizing, both inside and outside prison walls,” said Dolores Canales of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), and mother of a prisoner in Pelican Bay. “This legal victory is huge, but is not the end of our fight – it will only make the struggle against solitary and imprisonment everywhere stronger.” The 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes gained widespread international attention that for the first time in recent years put solitary confinement under mainstream scrutiny.

Currently, many prisoners are in solitary because of their “status” – having been associated with political ideologies or gang affiliation. However, this settlement does away with the status-based system, leaving solitary as an option only in cases of serious behavioral rule violations. Furthermore, the settlement limits the amount of time a prisoner may be held in solitary, and sets a two year Step-Down Program for the release of current solitary prisoners into the prison general population.

It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners will be released from SHU within one year of this settlement. A higher security general population unit will be created for a small number of cases where people have been in SHU for more than 10 years and have a recent serious rule violation.

“Despite the repeated attempts by the prison regime to break the prisoners’ strength, they have remained unified in this fight,” said Marie Levin of CFASC and sister of a prisoner representative named in the lawsuit. “The Agreement to End Hostilities and the unity of the prisoners are crucial to this victory, and will continue to play a significant role in their ongoing struggle.”

The Agreement to End Hostilities is an historic document put out by prisoner representatives in Pelican Bay in 2012 calling on all prisoners to build unity and cease hostilities between racial groups.

Prisoner representatives and their legal counsel will regularly meet with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials as well as with Federal Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas, who is tasked with overseeing the reforms, to insure that the settlement terms are being implemented.

“Without the hunger strikes and without the Agreement to End Hostilities to bring California’s prisoners together and commit to risking their lives— by being willing to die for their cause by starving for 60 days, we would not have this settlement today,” said Anne Weills of Siegel and Yee, co-counsel in the case. “It will improve the living conditions for thousands of men and women and no longer have them languishing for decades in the hole at Pelican Bay.”

“This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters,” said the prisoners represented in the settlement in a joint statement. “We celebrate this victory while at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle.”

Legal co-counsel in the case includes California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Chistensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness PLLC, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone. The lead counsel is the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge in the case is Judge Claudia Wilken in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

A rally and press conference are set for 12pm in front of the Elihu M Harris State Building in Oakland, which will be livestreamed at http://livestre.am/5bsWO.

The settlement can be read on CCR’s website, along with a summary. CCR has also put up downloadable clips of the plaintiffs’ depositions here.

Families Trek From SoCal to Pelican Bay In Hopes of Seeing Loved Ones Held in Solitary Confinement

From: Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Dec 7th 2012

Press Contact:  Azadeh Zohrabi
Cell:  310.612.9706

Interviews and photos available by request

San Francisco – A group of family members of prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Units (SHUs) have organized a charter bus to offer free rides for other family members to visit their loved ones at Pelican Bay. The trip is being organized by California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) in an effort to support families who have been unable to make the long trip to Pelican Bay due to financial restraints. The trip will begin in Los Angeles leaving at 3:00 a.m. on Friday, December 7th, and will stop briefly in San Francisco to pick up other families. They will return from Pelican Bay on Sunday, December 9th, after the last visits around 3:00 p.m.

The bus is full, and taking 55 family members including children to Pelican Bay. Organizers plan to reunite families before the winter holidays. It takes roughly 16 hours to drive from Los Angeles to Pelican Bay. “The long distance and costs associated with travel make it incredibly difficult for family members to visit their loved ones who are locked up at Pelican Bay. The state says our family members that we love are the ‘worst of the worst’, which not only gives the state power to lock them in cages in horrible conditions, but empowers the state to make visiting with those they love – and those who love them – almost impossible,” said Dolores Canales, whose son is in Pelican Bay’s SHU.  “We organized this trip without expectations, and found so much motivation and interest among family members that we have to drive a full car along with the chartered bus, and there’s not space for some people at all.”

As a result of the difficulties involved in visiting family imprisoned in Pelican Bay, many of the family members on this shared bus ride are visiting their loved ones for the first time, some after 10 or more years of separation.  “CFASC is creating this amazing opportunity for me. My brother was taken away from us years ago, and since he’s been at Pelican Bay, I haven’t been able to afford to visit much. His isolation has totally devastated our family. This is an incredible experience that I’m hoping can be repeated in the future,” says Marie Levin, whose brother lives in Pelican Bay’s SHU and is one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit filed with the Center for Constitutional Rights which alleges that the use of solitary confinement in California violates due process and amounts to torture. He was also among the first prisoners to call for hunger strikes in July, 2011.

Prisoners in Pelican Bay began a hunger strike last year to protest the conditions of extreme isolation in the SHUs. One of the demands that they issued to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation included expanded visiting privileges. The prisoners housed in SHU’s across the state are only allowed to visit with their families for one to two hours behind glass each weekend if the family can afford the time and expense of the three day trip. Many of these prisoners have not felt another human’s touch in decades.

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