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.

CDCR allegedly creates new types of solitary confinement cells, applying double jeopardy

From a letter sent on Aug. 14, 2015:

I’m writing to you about a new disciplinary building that’s been implemented here and at other prisons. It is known as a C-Status building.
It’s both similar and yet different from the Hole, or SHU.

This new program was implemented this year and cdcr are putting inmates in here based on how many 115s we get. The criteria is having two “Serious” 115s* (this could be for phone possession, dirty drug test, fighting, ANY Division offense really), or one Serious and two Administrative 115s, within a 6 month period.

The problem with this is if staff doesn’t like you, they can and will find something to write us up on, and it’s like we are being punished twice.

We have to deal with the disposition/punishment from the 115 (loss of yard, loss of phone, canteen, appliances, visits, etc), and then if we have two write ups, they convene a Commitee hearing (the captain, CC1, and CC2), label us as ‘program failures’ and we get put in the C-Status building for on average 5 months.

Once in the C Status building, our TVs, hot pots, fans, watches, radios, shavers, anything electronic is taken from us, as well as musical instruments, and we’re told to either send it home or donate it, but they will not store it for us. For recreation, we are only given one hour in the concrete yard at the same time every day.

The Title15 says they are only supposed to take away entertainment appliances, but they are going beyond that. They do not allow us to go to the law library (only paging), or go to any religious services.

Many of us have appealed via 602, but they have been screening out every one. We are essentially being punished twice, the first punishment being from the 115, and then by committee putting us in here, sometimes months after the original 115 disposition.

There are approximately 44 cells that have been appropriated in 8-Block (all of the cells in B and C section) to be used to house inmates placed on ‘C-Status’ by the disciplinary lieutenants and/or ‘C/C’ placement (Privilege Group & Work Group), by prison officials at a Committee hearing (which consists of the facility Captain, CC1 Counselor, and CC2 Counselor).

Since the implementation of this new punishment, prison officials have been on a grind to fill up these cells. And they have done just that; almost all 44 cells (double occupancy) have been filled up. And these are only with the inmates on this yard, C-yard.

There is a huge disparity in the treatment and ‘program’ we receive compared to those inmates that get sent to Ad-Seg and SHU’s. They have more privileges than us and they are often placed there for way more serious offenses, such as possession of weapons, distributing/possessing drugs, battery and assault on staff or inmates, etc. And these Ad-Seg inmates are allowed to have their TV’s, and new arrivals to Ad-Seg are even given radios to use temporarily. Even more important, they are [in theory] allowed access to the law library twice a week.

But for many of us we’re put on C/C for petty offenses, and once here we are not allowed to go to the law library or any religious service programs.
Being denied access to the law library and its resources is a huge obstacle to those with active appeals and court cases. It’s denying us with one of our fundamental rights to have access to law materials and the courts.

CSP-Sac officials have ignored the Title-15, and often make and impose changes arbitrarily. For example, since when is a hotpot, fan, or wrist watch considered an ‘entertainment appliance’, which they have and thus will not allow us to have them. However, according to the Title-15, the only property we’re not allowed to have while on C/C or C-Status, are ‘entertainment appliances’ (TVs, radios, and musical instruments).

We are being subjected to worse treatment and denied programs, and for many of us these are for petty offenses. All of us have already been found guilty and punished once already for the 115, but now if we have two 115 write-up’s within 6 months of each other, we get punished twice by being put in this shit-hole of a disciplinary building, often for up to 5-6 months. This is double jeopardy at its finest.

*=Rules Violation Reports, see 3310-3326 of CDCR Title 15 rules book

 

Solitary Confinement: A “Social Death” – NYT on “Shocking” Data from CCR Case

Prisoner Human Rights Movement

A video the New York Times published, accompanying the article Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life (August 3rd, 2015, by Erica Goode) shows Todd Ashker, George Franco, Gabriel Reyes and Paul Redd talking on camera about solitary confinement, being locked down without any hope, with no ending in sight:

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/bcvideo/1.0/iframe/embed.html?videoId=100000003831139&playerType=embed


This comes from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and it is about the Case Ashker v. Brown, in which the New York Times used research, including the 10 expert reports and a video with 4 of the class action representatives (Todd Ashker, George Franco, Gabriel Reyes and Paul Redd).

Today’s New York Times science section features a front-page piece about the research that CCR commissioned and compiled for our ground-breaking challenge to long-term solitary confinement. “Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life” introduces to the public the 10 expert reports we submitted to the court…

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HANDOUT MATERIALS for Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement

Reblogged on Californiaprisonwatch.org

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

If you need copies sent to you of any of these materials for use in your actions, please contact phssreachingout@gmail.com or call (510) 426-5322.

_______________________________________________ The above links allow you to download and print the materials made specifically for anyone participating in Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (23rd of each month). Below are several download links for recommended materials to hand out during such actions.  Good educational materials. Coming soon: a handout of Frequently Asked Questions and the Answers, and all handouts in Spanish & English.

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Beginning March 23rd: Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

STOP THE TORTURE!

The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) has helped launch Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) to start Monday, March 23, 2015.

Actions will happen on the 23rd of each month.

This date emphasizes the 23 or more hours every day that people are kept in solitary confinement.

PHSS Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Prisoner-Hunger-Strike-Solidarity/117053298383319

Statewide Coordinated Actions every month respond to the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers’ Proposals (November, 2013). They stated:

We want to consider the idea of designating a certain date each month as Prisoner Rights Day. On that date each month prisoners across the state would engage in peaceful activities to call attention to prison conditions. At the same time our supporters would gather in locations throughout California to expose CDCR’s [CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] actions and rally support efforts to secure our rights. We can see this action growing…

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Council of Europe anti-torture Committee publishes reports on Armenia

Press release from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe:

Strasbourg, 27.01.2015 – The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published today its reports on the last two ad hoc visits to Armenia, carried out in April 2013 and May 2014, together with the responses of the Armenian authorities.
 
During the April 2013 visit, the CPT’s delegation received a significant number of allegations from detained persons that they had been subjected to physical or psychological ill-treatment and/or excessive use of force by police officers. The alleged physical ill-treatment consisted in the main of punches, kicks, or inappropriate use of batons, at the time of apprehension or during subsequent questioning (in particular by operational police officers). 

In addition, a number of allegations were received of threats of physical ill-treatment and of repercussions for family members. In several cases, the ill-treatment alleged was of such a severity that it could be considered to amount to torture (e.g. extensive beatings; infliction of electric shocks; simulated asphyxiation with a gas mask; blows to the soles of the feet). In a number of cases, the medical examination of the persons concerned and/or the consultation of medical files by the delegation revealed injuries which were consistent with the allegations of ill-treatment made.
 
In their response, the Armenian authorities indicate that new guidelines have been issued and that the training of police officers has been enhanced to prevent instances of police ill-treatment.
 
In the report, the CPT acknowledges the efforts made by the Armenian authorities to improve the system of handling potential cases of police ill-treatment and welcomes the creation of the Special Investigation Service (SIS) as an independent investigative body. However, the examination of relevant documentation, including investigation files concerning complaints about police ill-treatment, revealed a number of flaws in the current system which clearly undermined the effectiveness of any action taken to detect and investigate such cases. The CPT makes a number of specific recommendations to improve the existing procedures for the reporting of injuries and the processing of potential cases of police ill-treatment by prosecutors.
 
The CPT’s delegation also carried out a target visit to Yerevan-Kentron Prison, in order to examine the conditions under which life-sentenced prisoners were being held in the establishment. In the report, the CPT expresses serious concern that hardly any of the specific recommendations made after previous visits have been implemented as regards the situation of two life-sentenced prisoners who had been continuously held in solitary confinement for 13 years, without being offered any out-of-cell activity other than outdoor exercise for one hour per day. The Committee emphasises that the conditions under which the two prisoners were being held could be considered as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment, bearing also in mind that neither of them was being provided with adequate psychiatric treatment, even though they both suffered from severe mental disorders. 
 
The main objective of the May 2014 visit was to review the situation of life-sentenced prisoners in the country. For this purpose, the CPT’s delegation visited Nubarashen and Kentron Prisons in Yerevan.
 
In both establishments, the delegation received hardly any allegation of physical ill-treatment from prisoners. 
 
However, the visit brought to light that many of the specific recommendations previously made by the Committee had not been (fully) implemented in practice, in particular, as regards the detention regime of life-sentenced prisoners, restrictions on prisoners’ contact with the outside world and the systematic use of handcuffs. 
 
As regards, more specifically, the situation of the two above-mentioned life-sentenced prisoners at Kentron Prison, certain improvements were observed in terms of psychiatric care. However, the situation had remained by and large unchanged since the 2013 visit with regard to their detention regime.
 
On the other hand, the CPT appreciates all the measures taken by the Armenian authorities after the 2014 visit with a view to putting an end to the solitary confinement of the two above-mentioned prisoners and providing them with adequate treatment and care. The Committee also welcomes the initiative of the Armenian authorities to amend the Penitentiary Code in order to abolish the legal obligation of segregating life-sentenced prisoners from other prisoners.
 
In their response, the Armenian authorities provide further information on the draft legislation which is intended to significantly improve the situation of life-sentenced prisoners and to facilitate the granting of conditional release for them. In addition, the authorities indicate that additional steps have been taken to provide the two above-mentioned prisoners with adequate health care and more out-of-cell activities.
 
The visit reports and related Government responses have been made public at the request of the Armenian authorities and are available on the CPT’s website: http://www.cpt.coe.int/en/states/arm.htm

Hundreds of South Carolina Inmates Sent to Solitary Confinement Over Facebook

This was reblogged from: Electronic Frontier Foundation
Written by: Dave Maass, Feb 12, 2015

In the South Carolina prison system, accessing Facebook is an offense on par with murder, rape, rioting, escape and hostage-taking.

Back in 2012, the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) made “Creating and/or Assisting With A Social Networking Site” a Level 1 offense [PDF], a category reserved for the most violent violations of prison conduct policies. It’s one of the most common Level 1 offense charges brought against inmates, many of whom, like most social network users, want to remain in contact with friends and family in the outside world and keep up on current events. Some inmates ask their families to access their online accounts for them, while many access the Internet themselves through a contraband cell phone (possession of which is yet another Level 1 offense).

Through a request under South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act, EFF found that, over the last three years, prison officials have brought more than 400 hundred disciplinary cases for “social networking”—almost always for using Facebook. The offenses come with heavy penalties, such as years in solitary confinement and deprivation of virtually all privileges, including visitation and telephone access. In 16 cases, inmates were sentenced to more than a decade in what’s called disciplinary detention, with at least one inmate receiving more than 37 years in isolation.

The sentences are so long because SCDC issues a separate Level 1 violation for each day that an inmate accesses a social network. An inmate who posts five status updates over five days, would receive five separate Level 1 violations, while an inmate who posted 100 updates in one day would receive only one.

In other words, if a South Carolina inmate caused a riot, took three hostages, murdered them, stole their clothes, and then escaped, he could still wind up with fewer Level 1 offenses than an inmate who updated Facebook every day for two weeks.

So extreme is the application of this policy that SCDC is forced to regularly suspend solitary confinement sentences because of a lack of space in disciplinary segregation. In many cases, the punishments associated with using social media are so unnecessarily long that inmates will never actually serve them since they exceed their underlying prison sentences.

Read the rest here