Oppose SB892! Oppose the making of Torture a part of California Law!

Update:

“This afternoon, Senator Loni Hancock decided to pull her bill, SB 892, because of growing opposition among key assembly members so that she no longer believed she had the votes necessary to pass the bill out of the Assembly.” (from email by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law).

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On behalf of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and others who joined an emergency conf call yesterday evening to address the imminent vote by the California Assembly and Senate on SB 892 (Senator Hancock) dealing with the critical issue of solitary confinement, we want to inform you of the following and urge you to widely distribute this message to your email lists.

 Issue: Between now and Sunday night the CA Assembly and Senate will vote on SB 892 drafted by Senator Hancock who got involved as a result of the prisoners’ hunger strike in the summer of 2013 to denounce the conditions in solitary confinement and CA’s unique “gang validation” policy. 

California’s Department of Corrections (CDCR) has what is probably the WORST, MOST COSTLY, AND MOST INHUMANE solitary confinement policy of any state in the country. As a result of CDCR policies, California has the largest population of prisoners in long-term solitary confinement in the U.S. and more than any other country on earth! 

A prisoner in CDCR’s custody commits suicide every ten days. Instead of reforming this policy–which includes placing prisoners who have engaged in no rule violations in long-term solitary for mere alleged gang membership (“gang validation policy”)–SB 892 for the first time in history adopts this draconian policy into state law. 
The Opposition: The four prisoner reps at Pelican Bay who initiated the 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes have jointly opposed SB 892.  Hit this link to download their letter to thelegislature. About 130 organizations and community leaders have written to the Senate and Assembly leaders explaining why they oppose SB 892. Hit this link to download their letter. 

Among many others, organizations opposing SB 892 include CFASC (family members of prisoners), Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), Council on American-Islamic Relations – California (CAIR), Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), Homeboy Industries, Homies Unidos, California Prison Watch, Asian Law Caucus, National Lawyers Guild (SF and LA Chapters), the William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI), Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes and Hermandad Mexicana Humanitarian Foundation. 

 Five urgent action requests:

 * Join an emergency conference call Thursday at 8:30 pm.  Call in: (424) 203-8400 Code: 1038088#
* Please immediately forward this email to your constituents.
* We urge organizations and community, faith-based and labor leaders to telephone the following legislators Thursday and Friday to express strong opposition to SB 892: 
(1) Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez, Majority Whip, or his Chief of Staff John Scribner (916) 319-2051
(2) Assembly Member V. Manuel Pérez, Majority Floor Leader or his Chief of Staff Greg Campbell (916) 319-2053; and 
(3) Senator Darrell Steinberg, President pro Tempore, or his Chief of Staff Kathry Dresslar (916) 651-4006 or Legal Counsel Margie Estrada (916) 651-4170.
Thank you for respecting human rights and speaking out against torture.

Letter from Pelican Bay Prisoner Representatives to Members of the California State Assembly & Senate

LETTER FROM PELICAN BAY PRISONER REPRESENTATIVES
TO MEMBERS OF THE CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY & SENATE

Original signed letter.

Todd Ashker – CDCR # C58191
Arturo Castellano – CDCR # C17275
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa R.N. Dewberry – CDCR # C35671
Antonio Guillen – CDCR # P81948

May 1, 2014

Dear Members of the California State Assembly and Senate:

We are writing to offer our position on the two bills pending before the Assembly and the
Senate (SB 892 and AB 1652) dealing with the solitary confinement and gang validation policies
of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

We are California inmates who have been in solitary confinement for long periods of time, based on validation as alleged associates and members of prison gangs, rather than based on violent behavior. We undertook hunger strikes in 2011 and in 2013 in opposition of the CDCR’s solitary confinement and gang validation practices as well as the inhumane conditions of CDCR’s Security Housing Units (SHUs). Together with thousands of inmates, we expressed
the following five core demands:

1) Individual accountability, rather than group punishment, indefinite SHU status, and restricted privileges;

2) Abolish debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria;

3) Comply with U.S. Commission 2006 Recommendations regarding an end to long-
term solitary confinement;

4) Provide adequate food; and,

5) Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates.

Having carefully reviewed and considered Assembly Bill 1652, introduced by Assembly member Tom Ammiano on February 11, 2014 as amended on April 3, 2014, and Senate Bill 892, introduced by Senate member Loni Hancock on January 13, 2014, as amended on March 18 and April 2, we wish to offer the following comments:

I. Discussion of Ammiano AB 1652:

AB 1652 addresses the very narrow but critical issue of eliminating CDCR’s policy of placing prisoners in solitary confinement for gang validation, rather than for commission of a serious offense. We support AB 1652. At the same time, we recommend that the bill be amended to include the following three additional provisions:

a. During assessment for SHU placement, the use of testimony (whether or not confidential) of an in-custody informant should be corroborated by an independent source!before being

[Letter to CA State Assembly and Senate
May 1, 2014 – page 2]

relied upon to place someone in a SHU. Corroboration cannot be based upon the testimony of another in-custody informant unless such in-custody informant obtained the information independently from the first in-custody informant and the information is not based on hearsay. This is essentially the same principle now applied in criminal court cases since 2011 (see Cal. Penal Code §1111.5).

b. An attorney-advocate should be made available (at no cost to the State) to inmates facing a sentence of more than 30 days in a SHU.

c. AB 1652 should implement provisions for increased oversight, studies, data collection, and reporting back to the Legislature on the SHU classification process, the mental and physical wellbeing of inmates in SHUs, and the reasons why SHU inmates are denied re-entry into the general population. Senate member Hancock’s SB 892 contains these provisions, which we recommend be included in AB 1652. Collecting and considering this data can lay the foundation for a future more comprehensive legislative evaluation of solitary confinement practices in California.

II. Discussion of Hancock SB 892:

Although SB 892 appears to seek to achieve comprehensive CDCR reform on the issue of solitary confinement, there are several provisions of the bill that will adopt inhumane and widely condemned practices into state law. We will only support SB 892 if it is amended to include
three critically important items:

a. The bill should incorporate the language of AB 1652 (or similar language) which eliminates the use of gang validation and minor rule violations as a justification for placing inmates in SHUs. As it stands currently, SB 892 does not eliminate SHU assignment for mere gang association and it does not eliminate indeterminate SHU terms.

This is a critical issue and one of our core demands. The nationwide trend is clearly not to place prisoners in segregated housing units for alleged gang association without accompanying serious rule violations. Numerous states have moved in this direction for public safety reasons, for humane reasons, and to cut costs. California should not move in the opposite direction.

b. As mentioned above, we recommend that language be added so that during assessment for SHU placement, the use of testimony (whether or not confidential) of an in-custody informant should be corroborated by an independent source!before being relied upon to place someone in a SHU. Corroboration cannot be based upon the testimony of another in-custody informant unless such in-custody informant obtained the information independently from the first in-custody informant and the information is not based on hearsay. This is essentially the same principle now applied in criminal court cases since 2011 (see Cal. Penal Code §1111.5).

[Letter to CA State Assembly and Senate
May 1, 2014 page 3]

c. As mentioned above, we recommend that language be added so that an attorney-advocate
should be made available (at no cost too the State) to inmates facing a sentence of more than 30 days in a SHU.

We do not believe that the range of provisions in SB 892 related to review by the Office of the Inspector General of cases in which SHU placement is based on the testimony of a confidential informant, the appointment of ombudsmen, the requirement for a daily face-to-face encounter with CDCR employees, the appointment of an “advocate” for an inmate being processed for SHU placement, or the Step Down Program in the bill will make any measurable difference in CDCR solitary confinement practices. The Inspector General is unlikely based upon review of a file to reverse decisions based on confidential informants. Ombudsmen will be of little value as long as inmates can be placed in SHUs for alleged gang association when they have engaged in no wrong-doing. “Face-to-face” encounters already happen almost every day when our food is served or a psych tech walks past our cells. Allowing an “advocate” to assist in the SHU assignment process will mean assignment of a guard who could care less about the result. And the proposed step-down program focuses on forcing prisoners to disavow alleged gang association or activities rather than on a behavior-based model considering whether the prisoner has violated rules while in the SHU. Despite these misguided and costly provisions in SB 892, we would support the bill if it is amended to include the provisions identified above.

However, the narrower and more focused (and less costly) AB 1652, particularly if amended as suggested above, would far better serve the public safety, prison security, and the humane treatment of prisoners. It’s a first but critically important step in the direction of a rational and humane policy. Further legislation could be considered in the next legislative session after CDCR data is collected by the legislature. Thank you for considering our comments and suggestions.

Sincerely,

Todd Ashker

Arturo Castellano

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa R.N. Dewberry

Antonio Guillen

This letter was written after these 4 representatives of prisoners at Pelican Bay had met with the Center for Human Rights, which emailed it to us. “As you may know, we’ve been working with the four Pelican Bay hunger strike reps to get their united position on the two bills pending in the CA Senate and Assembly on solitary confinement.”

(Also posted on SF Bay View)

Prisoners and advocacy groups oppose Sen. Loni Hancock’s prison reform bill, SB 892

This comes from the SF Bay View:
May 4, 2014

Lawyers from the LA-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law recently spent two days at Pelican Bay discussing with prisoners bills now introduced in the Senate by Sen. Loni Hancock and in the Assembly by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano dealing with solitary confinement. The Center’s lawyers met with Todd Ashker, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (R.N. Dewberry), Arturo Castellanos and Antonio Guillen, four of the prisoners in the Short Corridor who inspired the hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 that were joined by 30,000 other prisoners at their peak.

The Assembly and Senate bills are very different in their approaches to solitary confinement. Ammiano’s bill, which the prisoners support, is short and simple and is focused on one critical issue: prohibiting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct.

The prisoners believe that this bill addresses a major concern with California’s current policy and does so in a clean-cut and effective way. In legal discussions and letters to the Center, prisoners suggested two additions to the Ammiano bill: First, that it incorporate a provision that would prohibit CDCR from using the testimony of an inmate informant to place someone in a SHU (Security Housing Unit, where prisoners are held in solitary confinement) unless the inmate’s testimony was corroborated by independent third party evidence.

Second, they recommend that data-gathering provisions in Loni Hancock’s Senate bill be added to Ammiano’s bill so data can be obtained from CDCR which could be used in the future to advocate for changes in regulations or additional legislation. However, prisoners support the Ammiano bill even if these two proposals are not adopted.

On the other hand, prisoners have informed the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in personal interviews and letters that they do not support Loni Hancock’s Senate bill because for the first time in history it would put into state law authority for CDCR to place prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership without any accompanying serious misconduct. The prisoners believe this would be a major step backwards in the struggle to get California to follow other states that have terminated their “gang validation” policies as a basis for putting prisoners in solitary confinement.

They would support the Hancock Senate bill only if it adopted the Ammiano approach of prohibiting CDCR from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct. They would also want it to incorporate a provision that would prohibit CDCR from using the testimony of an inmate informant to place someone in a SHU unless the inmate’s testimony was corroborated by independent third party evidence.

Based on the prisoners’ positions, which seem fair and rational, several groups and community leaders, led by the California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, submitted a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee opposing the Hancock bill.

At a hearing before the Appropriations Committee held on April 28, Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights, testified against the Hancock bill on behalf of a number of groups and individuals, including CFASC, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Centro Legal de la Raza, Community Futures, Council on American-Islamic Relations – California (CAIR), Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS), Homeboy Industries, Homies Unidos, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 (ILWU), Justice Now, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), actor-activist Mike Farrell and labor leaders Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), and Mike Garcia, president of the Service Employees International Union–United Service Workers West (SEIU-West). No one appeared to testify in favor of the bill.

Notably, neither CDCR nor CCPOA, the guards’ union, voiced any opposition to Hancock’s bill – whereas they had shown up in full force to oppose Ammiano’s bill.

The full text of the letter presented to the Senate Appropriations Committee appears below. Over the next few weeks, CFASC and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law plan to intensify their lobbying and gather more support to block passage of the Hancock bill unless it is amended to prohibit CDCR from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct.

At the same time they will support passage of the Ammiano bill. “Whether we are fighting the gang validation policy in the courts or through public advocacy,” said Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights, “we are far better off fighting a policy of the administration than something enshrined into state law by the legislature for the next 10 to 20 years.”

The breadth and strength of opposition that has quickly built up against Hancock’s bill shows that over the next few months a powerful statewide coalition will form to block the Hancock bill unless it’s amended to prohibit the CDCR’s gang validation policy.

Letter to Senate Appropriations Committee

The following letter, dated April 25, 2014, was addressed to:

Sen. Kevin de Leόn, Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee, State Capitol, Room 5108, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Loni Hancock, State Capitol, Room 2082, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Jerry Hill, State Capitol, Room 5064, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Ricardo Lara, State Capitol, Room 5050, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Alex Padilla, State Capitol, Room 4038, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Darrell Steinberg, State Capitol, Room 205, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. William Monning, State Capitol, Room 4066, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Mark Leno, State Capitol, Room 5100, Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: SB 892 (solitary confinement)

Dear Sens. de Leόn, Hancock, Hill, Lara, Padilla, Steinberg, Monning and Leno:

This letter is submitted on behalf of the undersigned organizations and individuals.

The California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), which represents approximately 450 California prisoners in solitary confinement, as well as several other organizations, have previously communicated to Sen. Hancock concerns with certain provisions in SB 892 with specific suggested amendments. To date we have not received any response indicating whether Sen. Hancock will seek to amend her bill to address these matters.

We are writing to explain our concerns with SB 892 that now comes before the Senate Appropriations Committee. We are respectfully requesting that consideration of SB 892 be delayed for a few weeks to allow greater input and discussion about the intended and unintended consequences enactment of the bill will cause.

While well-intentioned, SB 892 fails to reform the widely condemned, inhumane, and outdated “gang validation” policy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Although the bill contains some positive provisions, it fails to include critical provisions needed to bring California law in line with modern prison security trends adopted in many other states – with successful results – and worse it institutionalizes “gang validation” as a basis for long-term solitary confinement for prisoners who have engaged in no serious wrong-doing while serving their sentences.

The cost of this program is estimated to be $44 million per year while 1) perpetuating the inhumane treatment of prisoners, 2) compromising the goal of rehabilitation and 3) causing hundreds of “validated” prisoners to suffer severe physical and mental disabilities – with added costs of treatment.

We are most concerned with the provisions of SB 892 that will memorialize into state law the widely condemned and outdated policy of the CDCR of placing inmates in SHUs for mere alleged gang association without any actual incidents of misconduct. Gang validation practices have been criticized by prison reform advocates throughout the country, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, American Bar Association, Amnesty International, the U.S. government and members of Congress.

While the bill proposes an indefinite number of “step-down” programs for “validated” prisoners after several years to be released from solitary confinement, both prisoners and prison security experts believe the proposed step-down program will be ineffective as proposed in SB 892. CDCR already follows a similar step-down program, but only a relatively small number of “validated” gang members have been released from solitary confinement through the program.

Prisoners and prison reform experts likewise agree that the minimal efforts in SB 892 to “improve” the due process rights of prisoners will be costly to the state while having little to no practical effect on prisoners’ rights. Overall, SB 892 would leave California with the largest population of prisoners in solitary confinement of any country in the world or state in the United States at enormous cost to the taxpayers.

SB 892 would leave California with the largest population of prisoners in solitary confinement of any country in the world or state in the United States at enormous cost to the taxpayers.

From a budget standpoint, enactment of SB 892 in its present form will increase the incidence of costly litigation challenging the law, likely lead to further costly hunger strikes by prisoners in solitary confinement, cost the taxpayers $44 million a year for maintaining prisoners in solitary confinement based on mere alleged gang membership, and cause untold additional medical costs as hundreds of these prisoners suffer mental and physical disabilities due to their confinement in segregated housing units.

In contrast, Assembly Bill 1652, introduced by Assemblymember Ammiano, is far narrower in what it attempts to achieve, is far better drafted to achieve reforms in solitary confinement and gang validation practices in California, and would save about $50 million per year in prison costs.

We respectfully request that the Senate Appropriations Committee delay consideration of SB 892 for a few weeks to evaluate whether amendments can be made that will save costs and potentially close the gap between the SB 892 and AB 1652

We urge you to please contact Dolores Canales, California Families Against Solitary Confinement, (714) 290-9077, and Peter Schey, President, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, 323-251-3223, to discuss whether consideration of SB 892 may be postponed for two to three weeks so that experts and family members may provide additional input for consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

California Families Against Solitary Confinement

Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights

Centro Legal de la Raza

Community Futures

Council on American-Islamic Relations – California (CAIR)

Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS)

Hermandad Mexicana Humanitarian Foundation

Homeboy Industries

Homies Unidos

Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace

International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 13 (ILWU)

Justice Now

League of United Latin American Citizens

Mexican American Political Association (MAPA)

Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community

Students Against Mass Incarceration (UC)

William C. Velasquez Institute

Father Gregory Boyle, Executive Director, Homeboy Industries

Rabbi Joshua Brumbach, Ahavat Zion Synagogue, Beverly Hills

Dolores Canales (son incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

Dennis R. Childs, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego

Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO)

Mike Farrell (Actor-Activist)

Mike Garcia, President, Service Employees International Union- United Service Workers West (SEIU-West)

Irene Huerta (spouse incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

James Lafferty, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild – Los Angeles Chapter

Sharon Martinas (prison reform advocate)

Sister Elisa Martinez, MSW

Heidi L. Rummel, Co-Director, Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP)

Kimberly Starr (prison reform advocate)

Sarah Torres (prison reform advocate)

Kimberly Rohrbach (prison reform advocate)

Beth Witrogen (life partner incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)