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.

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AT&T to pay Washington prisoners’ families $45 million in telephone class action settlement

From the Seattle Times, Feb. 3 2013

Posted by Jonathan Martin

AT&T has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit involving collect calls made from Washington State prisons for $45 million, making at least 70,000 families eligible for payments.

The settlement, filed late Friday in King County Superior Court, ends a 12-year lawsuit that pin-balled between the state Supreme Court, the state Utilities and Trade Commission and King County Superior Court. Filed in 2000, the lawsuit accused AT&T and other phone companies of failing to disclose exorbitant rates for collect calls from prison. The case settled just as it was set to go to trial in King County to determine damages.

The lawsuit covers collect calls made between 1996 and 2000 from Department of Corrections facilities. The lawsuit was filed by family and friends of Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and a former inmate in Washington State. Wright estimated that between 70,000 and 172,000 people could eligible for refunds, which include full reimbursement of the call charges, plus $200 per person.

At the time, those charges were $3.95 for the first minute and $.90 for each additional minute, according to Seattle attorney Chris Youtz, who pressed the class action case. After 20 minutes, the calls ended, requiring a new call, and a new surcharge. “The rates were ridiculous,” said Youtz.

Youtz said at least three people wracked up $20,000 in charges, according an analysis done during discovery in the case; others had $10,000 bills. Newspapers, such as The Seattle Times, and Columbia Legal Services, a nonprofit that monitors prison conditions, also likely will receive refunds for calls received from prisoners. If there is money left over after all class members who can be found are reimbursed – a big if, given the length of time that has gone by – some of the remainder will go to the Legal Foundation of Washington, which helps low-income people groups get lawyers, as well as to groups supporting prisoners’ families.

Legal notices will be filed notifying people of the potential refund. AT&T spokesman Marty Richter sent the following statement:

Read the rest here: http://blogs.seattletimes.com/opinionnw/2013/02/03/att-to-pay-washington-prisoners-families-45-million-in-telephone-class-action-settlement/