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.

International Support for California Prisoners resuming Hunger Strike from July 8th

Prisoners in California’s SHU’s: we hear you loud and clear!

On July 8th, many California prisoners in the Secure Housing Units (SHU’s) will go on an indefinite hunger strike again. In 2011 they did so by their thousands, this time they are resuming the hunger strike. 

Why? 
Because the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) has not listened to the many complaints of the prisoners, summarised in Five Simple Core Demands:

1. Eliminate group punishments.  Instead, practice individual accountability.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.

3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement. 

4. Provide adequate food and hygiene. 

5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates. 

The July 2013 California SHU prisoners hunger strike is done in unity regardless of race, religion, “gang.” All prisoners participating are in unity, following the Agreement to End Hostilities as drawn up in August 2012.

—- 
Our comrades at Prison Watch Europe are going to organize local writing afternoons where people can send cards to the head of prisons reminding him of these 5 simple demands. Also we will be sending cards to prisoners supporting their efforts and letting them know we hear them loud and clear.


More information about the crisis in the California prison system and the torture which is called Solitary Confinement can be found amongst others here:

SF Bay View National Black Newspaper

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Stop Mass Incarceration Network
NCTT-Cor-SHU 
The Rock
Bay Area Intifada Hunger Strike Support
California Prison Focus
SolitaryWatch.com
Lockupreform.com
California Prison Watch

We will be making more information available soon.



July 8th: Peaceful Protests of refusing food in CA SHU’s and elsewhere will resume if demands are not met!

Please spread this flyer, thank you! Also follow NCTTCOrSHU.org, Californiaprisonwatch.org (one of our network blogs), Stopmassincarceration.org, SFBayview.com, Prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com, and other sites with updates.

Also actions of solidarity are planned in other states (Louisiana for one, Ohio may follow). CDCR should at least hear and talk with the prisoners and their representatives!

Latest on CDCR’s proposed new ” STG” program is that NONE of the prisoners in the units in at least Corcoran-SHU 4B 1L have signed a “contract” that CDCR has installed to push prisoners to comply with their new solitary confinement punishment rules.

Join Us in Stopping Torture in US Prisons!

The Prison Watch Network endorses the following call for Solidarity:

Tens of thousands of people imprisoned in the US are being subjected to torturous, inhumane conditions.  Many are:


·       Held in long term solitary confinement; locked in tiny, windowless, sometimes sound proof, cells; cut off from fresh air and sunlight for 22-24 hours every day and given small portions of food that lacks basic nutritional requirements. 
·       Denied human contact and violently taken from their cells for petty violations.
·       Put in solitary arbitrarily, often because of accusations of being members of prison gangs based on dubious evidence, and have no way to challenge the decisions of prison authorities to place them in solitary.
Many are forced to endure these conditions for months, years and even decades!  Mental anguish and trauma often results from being confined under these conditions.  Locking people down like this amounts to trying to strip them of their humanity.
These conditions fit the international definition of torture!  This is unjust, illegitimate and profoundly immoral.  WE MUST JOIN IN AN EFFORT TO STOP IT, NOW!
People imprisoned at Pelican Bay State Prison in California have called For a Nation-wide Hunger Strike to begin on July 8, 2013. They have also issued a call for unity among people from different racial groups, inside and outside the prisons.  People who are locked down in segregation units of this society’s prisons, condemned as the “worst of the worst,” are standing up against injustice, asserting their humanity in the process.  We must have the humanity to hear their call, and answer it with powerful support!
A Nation-wide and World-wide Struggle Needs to Be launched NOW to bring an End to this widespread Torture Before those in the Prisons Are Forced to Take the Desperate step of going on hunger strikes and putting their lives on the line!
                                                                                               
To the Government
We Demand an Immediate End to the Torture and Inhumanity of Prison House America – Immediately Disband All Torture Chambers.  Meet the demands of those you have locked down in your prisons!
To People in this Country and Around the World
We Cannot Accept, and We Should Not Tolerate This Torture.  Join The Struggle to End Torture in Prisons Now!
To Those Standing Up in Resistance Inside The Prisons: 
WE SUPPORT YOUR CALL FOR UNITY IN THIS FIGHT, AND WE WILL HAVE YOUR BACKS!
June 21, 22 and 23 Will Be Days of Solidarity With the Struggle to End Prison Torture!  There will be protests, cultural events, Evenings of Conscience, sermons in religious services, saturation of social media – all aimed at laying bare the ugly reality of wide spread torture in US prisons and challenging everyone to join in fighting to STOP it.
Send Your endorsements (name . and if you wish, organization and/or title,  to:
For more information and to join in this struggle contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network at:

California: Open letter to Gov. Jerry Brown: Stop the torture now

From: SF Bay View, October 17, 2012

Dear Gov. Brown:

We oppose the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR’s) policies and practices relating to our subjection to decades of “status”-based indefinite isolation (SHU confinement); this includes our opposition to CDCR’s proposed policy changes, entitled “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification, and Management Strategy.” We would appreciate your supportive intervention on this issue.

We are the four principal prisoner representatives confined in the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor, and we present you with this request on behalf of ourselves and all similarly situated prisoners who are subject to torturous, indefinite SHU [Security Housing Unit] and Ad-Seg [Administrative Segregation] confinement.

The “censored pelican,” drawn by Pete Collins, at Bath Prison in Ontario, Canada, became an icon of the 2011 hunger strikes led by the same “main reps” in the Pelican Bay SHU who wrote this letter to Gov. Brown.

Our commonality as a collective group – able to effectively represent our own interests, as well as those of the thousands of prisoners similarly situated – lies in our continued indefinite SHU confinement for more than 25 years, which is based on “status,” rather than illegal behavior. Notably, our decades of SHU isolation are based on CDCR gang classification, i.e. status, without ever being found guilty of committing a gang-related criminal act!

Our gang validations and related decades of SHU isolation are based on what CDCR claims to be “intelligence-based evidence of criminal gang activity,” consisting of: (a) innocent associational or political type activity; and/or (b) confidential prisoner informants’ unsubstantiated allegations of involvement in criminal activity.

Beginning in February 2010, we became united in our efforts to collectively expose and peacefully bring an end to the CDCR policies and practices referenced above, based on our position that they constitute a form of torture and a violation of basic human rights principles. This is when we created our “Formal Complaint” document, copies of which were sent to numerous lawmakers, organizations, groups and individuals, including former Gov. Schwarzenegger and CDCR Secretary Cate. (To review our Formal Complaint, go to prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity. wordpress.com/formal-complaint).

As of early 2011, the Formal Complaint had resulted in no relief, and our conditions in SHU had become more oppressive; therefore, we decided our sole avenue for gaining mainstream exposure and outside support for our cause to end our torture was for us to put our lives on the line via a peaceful protest hunger strike action. In May/June 2011, we served your office and Secretary Cate with another copy of our Formal Complaint and our Final Notice of the July 1 hunger strike with the Five Core Demands. (Available at http://www.prisons.org/documents/FinalNoticewith5CoreDemands.doc).

True to our word, we began our hunger strike July 1, 2011, which lasted until July 20, 2011, and included supportive participation by more than 6,600 prisoners across the state. Our hunger strike action was temporarily suspended on July 20 in response to our face-to-face meetings with top CDCR officials, who admitted early on in the negotiation process that our five core demands “were all reasonable,” and CDCR “should have made changes 20 years ago,” and who promised to make timely, substantively meaningful changes, responsive to all five demands.

In our face-to-face meetings with top CDCR officials, they admitted early on in the negotiation process that our five core demands “were all reasonable” and CDCR “should have made changes 20 years ago,” and they promised to make timely, substantively meaningful changes, responsive to all five demands.

All parties understood that CDCR needed to change policies so that SHU confinement would be reserved for prisoners who are charged with and found guilty of committing a serious rule violation, meriting a determinate SHU term, i.e. a system based on individual behavior.

As of early September 2011, we believed CDCR was not acting in good faith … resulting in our return to hunger strike on Sept. 26, 2011. The response was to subject 15 of us to additional torture: Todd Ashker, C-58191; Arturo Castellanos, C-17275; Charles Coleman, C-60680; Mutope Duguma (James Crawford), D-05996; Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671; J. Brian Elrod, H-25268; George Franco, D-46556; Antonio Guillen, P-81948; Paul Jones, B-26077; Louis Powell, B-59864; Paul Redd, B-72683; Alfred Sandoval, D-61000; Danny Troxell, B-76578; James Baridi Williamson, D-34288; and Ronnie Yandell, V-27927.

We were placed in more isolative Ad-Seg strip cells, without adequate clothing or bedding, and with ice-cold air blasting out of the air vents; then Warden Lewis informed us, “As soon as you eat, you can go back home to your SHU cells.”

The response (to our second hunger strike) was to subject 15 of us to additional torture. We were placed in more isolative Ad-Seg strip cells, without adequate clothing or bedding, and with ice-cold air blasting out of the air vents; then Warden Lewis informed us, “As soon as you eat, you can go back home to your SHU cells.”

This second hunger strike action was joined by more than 12,000 prisoners at its peak. It was again temporarily suspended on Oct. 13, 2011, after CDCR made a presentation of their good faith efforts toward the policy changes agreed to in July which was satisfactory to our outside Mediation Team.

[photo: Legendary artist and revolutionary Emory Douglas, whose art enlivened the Black Panther newspaper and is now exhibited around the world, lent his powerful voice to a rally in front of CDCR headquarters in Sacramento during last year’s first hunger strike, on July 18, 2011.]

In the year since Oct. 13, 2011, the CDCR has failed to honor their end of our prior agreements to change SHU policies and practices including but not limited to those listed below:

1) We remain in SHU, subject to the torturous conditions therein, including but not limited to all of the conditions described in our Formal Complaint and other written statements. (See prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com).

2) The CDCR’s March 2012 proposed policy changes actually do not change anything for those prisoners whom CDCR has classified as validated gang members, who will continue to be subject to indefinite SHU isolation based on “intelligence information” alleged to indicate the prisoner’s participation in “criminal gang activity” – but in fact often innocent associational/political type activity).

The “intelligence” includes confidential informants’ unsubstantiated allegations of involvement in criminal activity – notably, carrying zero formal charges! This is the same policy and practice used and abused by CDCR to keep us in SHU for more than 25 years. (See, e.g., “intelligence” references in March 1, 2012, proposal at pp. 7-8, 25; “intelligence” categories references at pp. 19-24. Compare to CCR, Title 15, sec. 3378(c)(6), 3378(c)(8) and 3378(e).)

3) The CDCR’s March 2012 proposed policy changes include a four-year minimum step-down program, which prisoners may participate in to earn their way out of SHU. This is also unacceptable! Four years is too long, and the incentives for each step are not adequate. Any step-down program should have a maximum limit of 18 months and require meaningful incentives from the start, such as increased opportunity for out-of-cell contact with other prisoners, additional programs and privileges, including regular phone calls and contact visits.

Notable are the following additional facts supporting our position that CDCR has violated our July/October 2011 agreement and acted in bad faith, thereby requiring us to request your supportive intervention.

A. In March 2012, we presented CDCR with our written rejection of their proposed policy changes, and we included our counterproposal. (Available at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/pelican-bay-human-rights-movement-short-corridor-collecitves-counter-proposal-to-cdcr/).

B. Our outside Mediation Team and the Prison Law Office also presented CDCR with related written oppositions to the proposal. (The Mediation Team’s critique is available at http://www.prisons.org/documents/MTreviewofSTGplan5.5.pdf). The CDCR failed to respond to these opposition points.

This rare photo – rare because reporters are almost always barred from all California prisons, especially the SHUs – shows the cell that was home to Todd Ashker, a signatory to this letter, for over 20 years. Recently he was abruptly moved to a distant part of the SHU. 

The reported reason is nonsensical for a move that is no doubt intended to stop the movement for peaceful change by separating the leaders.

C. This past June 19, 2012, U.S. Sen. Durbin held a congressional hearing about the overuse of isolation cells in the nation’s penal system. The next day, Illinois Gov. Quinn announced that he would close down Tamms Correctional Facility, the notorious SuperMax that opened in 1995 and held prisoners in long-term isolation – some of them since the prison’s inception. His decision was based on the enormous operational costs and evidence suggesting such isolative confinement profoundly and irreparably damages the prisoners exposed to such harsh treatment. Other states have also made significant reductions in their use of SHU-type units, reserving such cells for prisoners found guilty of serious rule violations, where they serve minimal time periods; these states include Mississippi, Maine and Colorado. (See http://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/closing-tamms-supermax-chance-reevaluate-solitary-confinement.) Reducing their use of isolation is saving these states millions of dollars.

Yet California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation remains committed to keeping thousands of prisoners in costly SHU and Ad-Seg isolation cells for decades, solely based on status rather than a chargeable, charged offense and a finding of guilt for serious misconduct. And we believe that the March 2012 “Security Threat Group …” proposal will ultimately result in many more prisoners being subject to years of torture in isolation cells.

Reducing their use of isolation is saving the states of Mississippi, Maine and Colorado millions of dollars. Yet California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation remains committed to keeping thousands of prisoners in costly SHU and Ad-Seg isolation cells for decades, solely based on status rather than a chargeable, charged offense and a finding of guilt for serious misconduct.

Gov. Brown, back in May/June of 2011 we respectfully made you personally aware of the serious problems. Your failure to take appropriate corrective action has enabled our decades of torturous pain and suffering to continue. Remember, we are talking about the illegal torture of thousands of male and female prisoners – and their family members. The perception is that you are condoning this mass prisoner torture program going on in CDCR’s system and the related ongoing million-dollar fraud being carried out by your appointees, Secretary Cate et al. – by your failure to stop it.

The policies and practices at issue violate basic human rights principles and are clear violations of the Constitution and international law, which bans torture for any reason.

All this comes, as you know, at an enormous cost to all California taxpayers: At least $73,000 per year for each SHU and Ad-Seg prisoner, compared to approximately $52,000 for a general population prisoner – while every other citizen in the state has had social services slashed!

The perception is that you are condoning this mass prisoner torture program going on in CDCR’s system and the related ongoing million-dollar fraud being carried out by your appointees, Secretary Cate et al. – by your failure to stop it.

Meanwhile, we continue to work for constructive change. Since the PBSP SHU became operational in December 1989, the entire state prison system has had an explosion of riots, to the point where level fours are locked down most of the time, without meaningful rehabilitation programs, opportunities etc.

To change this, we have just launched an initiative to reduce the violence in the CDCR system by calling on all prisoners to end hostilities between various groups. (See http://www.prisons.org/documents/agreement-to-end-hostilities.pdf). We hope for your cooperation in this effort; we will communicate with you further about it soon.

[photo: This banner provided the theme for a hunger strike solidarity vigil at the Alameda County Courthouse on Aug. 11. 2011. – Photo: United for Drug Policy Reform]

Gov. Brown, the barbaric, inhumane treatment of prisoners in this state has gone on for far too long now. We are asking you to take corrective action today by ordering Secretary Cate to immediately halt such practices consistent with our points presented above, and thereby end the unnecessary pain and suffering such practices cause to prisoners, their loved ones outside, and the rest of the majority of the 40 million Californians who have a conscience.

Sincerely,

Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), Antonio Guillen

Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor Prisoner Representatives

P.S. We (prisoners) reject version 7.0 (June 29, 2012) of the “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification, and Management Strategy,” as prisoners rejected version 5.5 (March 1, 2012).

Send our brothers some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP SHU D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532, and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP SHU D1-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532. Mail to Arturo Castellanos and Antonio Guillen is severely restricted.

The Call

By Mutope Duguma (s/n James Crawford)
From: Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity

This is a call for all prisoners in Security Housing Units (SHUs), Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg), and General Populations (GP), as well as the free oppressed and non-oppressed people to support the indefinite July 1st 2011 peaceful Hunger Strike in protest of the violation of our civil/human rights, here at Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (PBSP-SHU), short corridor D1 through D4 and its overflow D5 through D10.

It should be clear to everyone that none of the hunger strike participants want to die, but due to our circumstances, whereas that state of California has sentenced all of us on Indeterminate SHU program to a “civil death” merely on the word of a prison informer (snitch).

The purpose of the Hunger Strike is to combat both the Ad-Seg/SHU psychological and physical torture, as well as the justifications used of support treatment of the type that lends to prisoners being subjected to a civil death. Those subjected to indeterminate SHU programs are neglected and deprived of the basic human necessities while withering away in a very isolated and hostile environment.

Prison officials have utilized the assassination of prisoners’ character to each other as well as the general public in order to justify their inhumane treatment of prisoners. The “code of silence” used by guards allows them the freedom to use everything at their disposal in order to break those prisoners who prison officials and correctional officers (C/O) believe cannot be broken.

It is this mentality that set in motion the establishing of the short corridor, D1 through D4 and its D5 though D10 overflow. This mentality has created the current atmosphere in which C/Os and prison officials agreed upon plan to break indeterminate SHU prisoners. This protracted attack on SHU prisoners cuts across every aspect of the prison’s function: Food, mail, visiting, medical, yard, hot/cold temperatures, privileges (canteen, packages, property, etc.), isolation, cell searches, family/friends, and socio-culture, economic, and political deprivation. This is nothing short of the psychological/physical torture of SHU/Ad-Seg prisoners. It takes place day in and day out, without a break or rest.

The prison’s gang intelligence unit was extremely angered at the fact that prisoners who had been held in SHU under inhuman conditions for anywhere from ten (10) to forty (40) years had not been broken. So the gang intelligence unit created the “short corridor” and intensified the pressure of their attacks on the prisoners housed there. The object was to use blanket pressure to encourage these particular isolated prisoners to debrief (i.e. snitch on order to be released from SHU).

The C/Os and administrative officials are all in agreement and all do their part in depriving short corridor prisoners and its overflow of their basic civil/human rights. None of the deliberate attacks are a figment of anyone’s imagination. These continuous attacks are carried out against prisoners to a science by all of them. They are deliberate and conscious acts against essentially defenseless prisoners.

It is these ongoing attacks that have led to the short corridor and overflow SHU prisoners to organize ourselves themselves around an indefinite Hunger Strike in an effort to combat the dehumanizing treatment we prisoners of all races are subjected to on a daily basis.

Therefore, on July 1, 2011, we ask that all prisoners throughout the State of California who have been suffering injustices in General Population, Administrative Segregation and solitary confinement, etc. to join in our peaceful strike to put a stop to the blatant violations of prisoners’ civil/human rights. As you know, prison gang investigators have used threats of validation and other means to get prisoners to engage in a protracted war against each other in order to serve their narrow interests. If you cannot participate in the Hunger Strike then support it in principle by not eating for the first 24 hours of the strike.

I say that those of you who carry yourselves as principled human beings, no matter you’re housing status, must fight to right this and other egregious wrongs. Although it is “us” today (united New Afrikans, Whites, Northern and Southern Mexicans, and others) it will be you all tomorrow. It is in your interests to peacefully support us in this protest today, and to beware of agitators, provocateurs, and obstructionists, because they are the ones who put ninety percent of us back here because they could not remain principled even within themselves.

Source: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/voices-from-inside/the-call/