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.

Shine a light on Tehachapi, where CDCr has violated prisoners’ constitutional rights for far too long!

A powerful and insightful letter from one of the leaders of the 2011 and 2013 California hunger strikes for Human Rights:
From: SF Bay View, October 31, 2014

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa


This is a summarized version of a letter I sent to Mike Stainer, director of Adult Institutions, July 28, 2014, in order to address the long standing U.S. constitutional violations at CCI-Tehachapi and bring this prison under the current SHU standards forthwith:

Salamu (Greetings), Mr. Stainer and Mr. Diaz:

CCI Tehachapi Prison lies in the Tehachapi Mountains 35 miles east of Bakersfield between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. – Photo: CDCr
CCI Tehachapi Prison lies in the Tehachapi Mountains 35 miles east of Bakersfield between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. – Photo: CDCr

As I briefly reach out to you and your staff member, Mr. Diaz, I trust you are in good health and state of mind. I see that you are continuing to press the CDCR’s STG-SDP, and from where I’m sitting, your office is facing some serious structural dysfunctions throughout your prisons, regarding your alleged Steps 3 and 4.

These programs have supposedly been operational since Oct. 12, 2012, and Mr. George Giurbino and Ms. Suzan Hubbard have been campaigning and speaking highly of their Steps 3 and 4 program. It does not exist!

This is one of the most refined schemes I have ever witnessed, and Gov. Jerry Brown is actually scapegoating prisoners with the need for the Step 3 and 4 program. The talking points used by Giurbino and Hubbard to the public and to Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano were untrue.

Stay tuned. Enough said for the moment. I just wanted to share my thoughts, being that myself and other prisoners are seeing this type of hell first hand and UP CLOSE!

My purpose is to establish monthly meetings between CCI-Tehachapi officials and the four prisoner negotiators – myself, Danny Troxell (B-76578), John Solis (C-52754) and Javier Martinez (T-62995) – who shall speak on behalf of the Tehachapi SHU prisoner class. Now, over a month or so ago while still at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP), I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Diaz about establishing a similar working body to address some long standing problems here at CCI.
He agreed that some things needed to be worked out. Since my arrival, I see that the problems are of a constitutional nature and we do feel many can be resolved right here locally.

My purpose is to establish monthly meetings between CCI-Tehachapi officials and the four prisoner negotiators – myself, Danny Troxell (B-76578), John Solis (C-52754) and Javier Martinez (T-62995) – who shall speak on behalf of the Tehachapi SHU prisoner class.


I truly understand the cultural changes you are facing, Mr. Stainer, with wardens all the way through to correctional officers, but these cultural changes have been at the expense of prisoners across the prison system. These acts of persuasion and perturbation by prison staff have to cease immediately here at Tehachapi! The cultural level with prisoners has changed and continues to change.

There has to be a serious dialogue with yourself, Stainer and Diaz, along with Tehachapi prison officials, in order to truly standardize all SHUs, and currently Tehachapi is an un-standardized prison. All SHUs, and currently Tehachapi, are un-standardized. They should follow PBSP as the new and current model of areas that need to be altered in accordance with the new standard model that we should be after.

We, the Prisoner Human Rights Movement (PHRM), need supporters to shine a light on this prison, for they have violated prisoners’ constitutional rights for far too long! We must be afforded our 10 hours of exercising a week. We must be afforded three hours of visiting. Those are two of our immediate requests and demands. Prisoners have been denied these rights for years!
In struggle!

Send our brother some love and light: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, s/n R.N. Dewberry, C-35671, CCI SHU 4B-7C-209, P.O. Box 1906, Tehachapi CA 93581.