Message from Pelican Bay Reps to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez

October 18, 2013
We, the four principal representatives of the prisoners confined in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, hereby welcome Juan Mendez to California. We have followed your work and advocacy against torture throughout the world and congratulate you on your commitment and success in bringing your findings to the public’s attention.
We recently suspended our hunger strike against torture in the form of prolonged solitary confinement in California’s prisons after 60 days. Over 30,000 prisoners joined us in the largest protest ever against prison conditions in the United States and possibly the world.
We decided to suspend our hunger strike for several reasons: (1) We succeeded in making the issue of torture in California’s prisons into an issue of worldwide public and media attention. The New York Times, Washington Post,   Los Angeles Times, CNN, Al Jazeera, and the BBC are just a few of the media outlets that covered our cause, with many running editorials in our support. Thousands of people joined demonstrations, signed petitions and letters, and spoke out in our favor. (2) State Senator Loni Hancock and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano promised to hold legislative hearings to address solitary confinement, the conditions of imprisonment, and sentencing policy in California and to introduce legislation for reform. They have already held one hearing on October 9, in a room filled with our supporters, and heard from experts, former prisoners, and family members who spoke of the torture we endure and demanded change. (3) CDCR officials promised to meet with us to discuss our concerns, and we have already spent hours in talks with them.
But nothing has changed. Over 3500 prisoners remain isolated in California’s SHUs with almost no human interaction, little opportunity to exercise or even see the sun, and forbidden from contact visits or telephone calls with their families. They join thousands of others who are held in different forms of solitary confinement throughout the system.  Prisoners are revalidated for indefinite terms on the basis of unconfirmed rumors, anonymous misinformation from debriefers and informants, and possession of criminalized books, articles, and art work. The only sure way out is to debrief and expose yourself to shame, further exploitation by prison officials, condemnation and violence.
Mr. Mendez, we ask that you join in our struggle. We would like you to testify at one of the upcoming Legislative hearings. We would like you to consider becoming an expert witness in our lawsuit. As a former prisoner yourself, we would like you to do your best to bring both our conditions and our human rights movement to the attention of the international community, with intention to take resolute action against the torture we, along with many other prisoners in California and elsewhere have endured for far too long. We look forward to meeting you.
With Respect and in Solidarity,
Todd Ashker
Arturo Castellanos
Antonio Guillen
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

UN Torture Investigator Calls on Nations to End Solitary Confinement

In Nevada there are large parts of whole prisons on lockdown, this means prisoners are not allowed out of their tiny cells for 24 hours a day, and a few times a week, depending on the mood of those in charge, they can go to shower or to an enclosed yard alone. This goes on forever for some prisoners, with no program to step down, left to the discretion of those in power.

They never have any normal way of talking with another human being, always have visits behind glass, and are basically treated less than dogs.

Now, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, has called for a ban on all forms of solitary confinement, because they can amount to torture. Here is the report from our friends at Solitarywatch:

From: SolitaryWatch:
October 19, 2011
By Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

The UN’s torture investigator, Juan Mendez, yesterday called on UN members nations to ban nearly all uses of solitary confinement in prisons, warning that is causes serious mental and physical harm and often amounts to torture. Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment, presented a written report on solitary confinement to the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, which singled out for criticism the routine use of supermax isolation in the United States. He also gave a press conference and participated in a forum with American civil rights and human rights groups.

As Reuters reports, Mendez stated that solitary confinement “‘can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles.’” He continued, “‘Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, supermax, the hole, secure housing unit…whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by states as a punishment or extortion (of information) technique.’”

Mendez was precise in defining solitary confinement, and in outlining the limitations that should be placed on its use. He stated:

“I am of the view that juveniles, given their physical and mental immaturity, should never be subjected to solitary confinement. Equally, in order not to exacerbate a previously existing mental condition, individuals with mental disabilities should be provided with proper medical or psychiatric care and under no circumstances should they ever be subjected to solitary confinement. My recommendations are, first, to see if we can have a complete ban on prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement. And I more or less arbitrarily defined that as anything beyond 15 days of solitary confinement, meaning someone being confined to a cell for at least 22 hours a day.”

As Reuters reports, “Mendez told reporters he conceded that short-term solitary confinement was admissible under certain circumstances, such as the protection of lesbian, gay or bisexual detainees or people who had fallen foul of prison gangs. But he said there was ‘no justification for using it as a penalty, because that’s an inhumane penalty.’”

Mendez made reference to the case of accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning, who spent after eight months in solitary at a military brig in Virginia before being moved to general population to await court-martial. Mendez said he “planned to issue a report on Manning and other cases in the next few weeks.”

Mendez also told reporters that he himself had spent three days in solitary in the 1970s in his native Argentina, then under military dictatorship, and they were “the three longest days in my life.”