Court Must Intervene to End Torture of Solitary Confinement, Attorneys Argue

A court hearing took place on March 14th in Oakland on behalf of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners. 
Here is the press release by the Center for Constitutional Rights:

March 14, 2013, Oakland – Today, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged a federal judge to reject California’s attempt to dismiss a class action lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement in California prisons.  The case was filed on behalf of prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement and who staged two widely publicized hunger strikes in 2011.  It alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, and that the absence of meaningful review of SHU placement violates the prisoners’ right to due process.  CCR lawyers argued today that nominal, temporary reforms by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which the defendants cited as grounds for dismissing the case, have had little to no effect on the conditions challenged in the lawsuit and, thus, the case must proceed.

“The CDCR’s reforms are nothing more than window dressing.  They are riddled with the same constitutional problems challenged in this lawsuit, they have had no effect on any of the plaintiffs and, in any event, they are set to expire in two years,” said Center for Constitutional Rights President Jules Lobel, who argued today.  “The most important similarity, however, is that this pilot program is the third time the CDCR has promised meaningful reforms and failed to deliver.  At this point it is clear that a court must intervene.”
SHU prisoners spend 22 ½ to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell.  They are denied telephone calls, any physical contact with visitors, and vocational, recreational and educational programming.  As of 2011, more than 500 Pelican Bay SHU prisoners have been isolated under these conditions for over 10 years; more than 200 have been there for over 15 years; and 78 have been isolated in the SHU for more than 20 years.  Solitary confinement for as little as 15 days is widely recognized to cause lasting psychological damage and is analyzed as torture under international law.  The pilot program implemented by the CDCR still allows for prisoners to be confined in extreme isolation for decades.
Said plaintiff and Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Luis Esquivel, “I have joined this lawsuit as a named plaintiff because I am interested in the welfare and human dignity of all people in the SHU, not just my own situation. All SHU prisoners are in this struggle together. We all want to be treated like human beings, but are not.”
Additionally, CCR attorneys argued today that the pilot program does not ameliorate the due process violations alleged in the complaint, as it still does not provide any meaningful review of prisoners’ SHU placement, rendering their isolation effectively permanent.  Prisoners can still be placed and held in the SHU absent any gang activity, violent conduct, or serious rule infraction; they may still be labeled gang “affiliates” and confined in isolation for activities such as reading about Black history, creating or possessing cultural artwork, or writing in Swahili; and they still must wait years between each opportunity for review.  Moreover, even since the pilot program was implemented, some of the plaintiffs have been denied release from the SHU explicitly under the old policy.
Said attorney Charles Carbone, “The pilot program is already in a tail spin. The prisoners have rejected it and it does nothing to stop long term isolation or torture. The only real fix here is to end indefinite solitary confinement in California.”
SHU assignments disproportionately affect Latino prisoners.  The percentage of Latinos in the Pelican Bay SHU was 85% in 2011, far higher than their representation in the general prison population, which was 41%. 
“I’ve been in solitary confinement for 16 years,” said plaintiff and Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Gabriel Reyes.  “I have learned here to hope for the best, expect the worst. I hope common sense and justice rule the day, so my family and loved ones can touch and hug each other and be a family again someday. My pillow keeps getting smaller and smaller from squeezing it so much.”
On March 12, 2013, CCR submitted written testimony on solitary confinement in the United States to an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) thematic hearing on the use of solitary in the Americas.  The testimony is available here.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone are co-counsel on the case.
The case is Ruiz v. Brown, and it amends an earlier pro se lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay SHU prisoners Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell.  The case is before Judge Claudia Wilken in The United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Write a letter:


Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) prisoners have organized to combat cruel conditions of confinement, and have launched two hunger strikes to raise attention to their demands. (Learn more about this here)

Tell the California Governor Jerry Brown to honor the demands on the prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU.

In mid October 2012, members of the Pelican Bay hunger strike movement issued an open letter to Governor Jerry Brown asking for his support and intervention on their behalf, demanding substantive policy changes to their conditions of confinement, and citing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)’s failure to meaningfully commit to agreements made following the hunger strike. We ask you to take action in solidarity with these prisoners and please write to Governor Jerry Brown asking for his support and intervention on their behalf.
Take Action Now: Tell Governor Brown to intervene on behalf of Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners.

Formal Complaint by SHU Short Corridor Inmates, Pelican Bay State Prison

The latest California Prison Focus has a Formal Complaint by SHU Short Corridor inmates at Pelican Bay, on its front page. Read it here, and inside the issue there is more info on the upcoming hunger strike for Human Rights.

See the handwritten formal complaint here.

Resistance is critical

An essay by Coyote (incarcerated in Ely Max), originally published in California Prison Focus 26 (2006)

From the cemetery, I salute you! May my words be heard, shared, and reflected on, from prisoner to prisoner, state to state. Although, I’m not saying anything new, I still believe there are some who haven’t yet heard it, and the ones who have, well maybe you need to hear it again.
The situations we’re faced with, the shit we’re up against, some think its cool to “do time”– this ain’t cool, this is war. I’ve seen these lock-down situations turn solid cons into funny-style P.C.’s!

This strategy keeps us hating on each other and at each others’ throats, rather than aiming our anger at our oppressors, they got us thinking that we have to survive by any means. It’s true we have to survive, but there’s many means in which we can be doing this, rather than destroying each other we could be surviving by uplifting each other. You think Brown Power, Black Power, White Power is achieved by controlling and dominating other races? No! it is achieved by uplifting yours, and this can be done without stepping on the necks of the next man’s race.

I’ve read about many warriors before who have liberated themselves, who have found redemption through the knowledge of books such as Malcolm X, Dennis Banks, George Jackson and Tookie Williams just to name a few. Did the state rehabilitate those people? No, they took it upon themselves and they also were surrounded by a solid support group inside prison who encouraged and helped uplift them. In the case of all of these greats who have rehabilitated themselves, who have found redemption and liberation, not once did any of these men say that we should cooperate or identify with the people who oppress us. The entire time they were aware of who their enemy was. These are the people who went to the extreme to lift their own people up, to make the situation better, all while standing a firm ground against the people who oppressed them.

As a prisoner I represent the prisoner class. I represent the poor and the oppressed, of all races, nationalities, creeds and religions. We are all trapped in the system; we are all under the same gun. Remember, they don’t have to worry about killing us as long as we’re killing each other. We’re doing the job for them. As I’ve mentioned in the beginning of this essay, I’ve seen good men go funny, so, I encourage you, if you have books, to pass them around and share them, to hold discussions and study sessions, without being disrespectful to anybody else’s race, religion or creed. Keep it on a positive vibe; it’s all about uplifting each other. Who knows, you could be the next Malcolm X or the next Dennis Banks, or you could be the one who helps create him [or her]. Incarcerated, locked-down, slammed, torcidos. In these situations, resistance is critical. We are at war, in struggle. This is a psychological war, so we must defend ourselves by strengthening our minds. I encourage you to read any books you can find on psychological warfare, so you can study what they’re doing to you and seek ways to combat it. Knowing is the first step to consciousness. Consciousness is the first step to organization. Organize your mind and then your people. To the activist, concerned citizens and people on the streets, those who write to prisoners, who are concerned with their struggles and developments, if you are writing someone who you know is seriously committed to higher learning or further developing their skills, I encourage you to get involved with them and help them progress. If they’re into writing, then help them get into a correspondence class for writers. If they’re trying to study and learn the law, help them out with some law books. If they’re into art then help them get materials and supplies they need.

Whatever it is they’re trying to do, help them if you can, because they can’t do it without your help, and they can’t expect the same people who oppress them to help them. You would be surprised how far your help can go. The things you do for us, even the smallest of things, means so much to us; we can’t do it without you. We need outside support to get things done in here. As prisoners, we face many obstacles, many fights. For some of us the fight goes beyond survival, in the physical sense, it is a fight amongst ourselves, between good and evil. Our souls are in turmoil. We need books; we need to feed our souls with knowledge and spirituality, so that we can grow inside, progress, become stronger and intelligent, all while in this state of ongoing turmoil.