Decades of “good behavior” not enough for prisoners in California’s SHU’s according to CDCR: Proposed policies include mandatory cognitive restructuring programs

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is proposing new regulations on “Security Threat Groups” (STG) or “gangs,” which will be implemented after a regular Public Hearing, to be held on April 3rd.  The Step-Down-Program, which CDCR has been executing in a pilot program, is apparently being implemented into CDCR’s vast number of regulations.
The implementation of the official Step-Down-Program comes while a second Legislative Hearing on February 11th has been organized, where CDCR’s “gang management” policies will be discussed, or as it is officially called on the agenda: “CDCRs Proposed New Policies on Inmate Segregation.” 
What is worrying about all these regulations and rules when we scan through them to see if there are any ameliorations for those inside the SHU’s  is, that CDCR keeps spinning the fact that human rights are being abused by keeping people inside lockdown units, in segregation, not only for months, but years, even decades on end, without there being any violent behavior by those people kept in these secure housing units. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, wrote a statement in 2013 in which he stated that these prison units can amount to “torture:” 

The independent investigator on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment urged the US authorities to ensure that “solitary confinement is only imposed, if at all, in very exceptional circumstances, as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and with established safeguards in place.” In Mr. Méndez’s view, “its application must be subject to independent review, and inmates must undergo strict medical supervision.”

One example of someone in one of the California SHU’s is Hugo Pinell, who has been incarcerated since 1964, and who has been in solitary confinement for four decades. He has not had any disciplinary infraction in 32 years. There is no reason to keep him in the Secure Housing Unit other than that CDCR is waging a war of propaganda against people like Pinell and so many others, for instance like the prisoners who started the 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes protesting indefinite solitary confinement, who have been critical and outspoken of the prison industrial complex. The latest news is that in early February of this year, Hugo Pinell was allowed to make a phone call to his family for the first time since 40 years…
Jeffrey Beard: This is not solitary confinement
In response to an increasing display of criticism on SHU-policies used by CDCR, Secretary Jeffrey Beard wrote an op-ed during the hunger strike in August of 2013, in which he made a few bold statements without documentation on which he based the quotes used.

Beard tried to portray the SHU’s in three prisons as having “windows in the cells that allow for direct sunlight.” He also wrote: 

“At Pelican Bay, all SHU cells have skylights. In all of the facilities, inmates in the SHU have radios and color TVs with access to channels such as ESPN. They have weekly access to a law library and daily exercise time. Many have cellmates; they can earn degrees; they can send and receive letters; and their family and friends can visit them every weekend. SHU inmates receive the same meals and portions as general population inmates. This is not “solitary confinement,” in that prisoners can have visitors and, in many cases, interaction with other inmates.”

Of course all the examples Beard mentions can be countered by the experiences of prisoners and their families and friends in their daily lives in the real prisons in California. But Beard, whose theories do not seem to be tested to real life in the SHU’s he directs, was hired by CDCR to provide spin and propaganda, countering claims of torture. His job is to see to it that CDCR gets its money and feeds its union members in the powerful CCPOA-lobby(California Correctional Peace Officers Association), which even pays Governor Jerry Brown so that he will do as the CCPOA tells him.
In a statement on CDCR Today, a blog which posts CDCR’s press releases, the following was also stated on August 26th 2013:

CDCR does not utilize “solitary confinement.” Additionally, the length of an indeterminate SHU assignment is now determined by individual inmate behavior. It is now possible for an indeterminate term to be reduced to 3-4 years. Moreover, STG associates will no longer be placed in a SHU based solely upon their validation.

Behavior
We can ask ourselves why a person in prison who has been without disciplinary infractions for 32 years, can’t be commended and should have been transferred to a place where he can have contact visits and a less harsh environment? This logical and humane thought was also one of the demands of the hunger strikers, who formulated 5 core demands, of which nr 1 is:

End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse – This is in response to PBSP’s application of “group punishment” as a means to address individual inmates rule violations. This includes the administration’s abusive, pretextual use of “safety and concern” to justify what are unnecessary punitive acts. This policy has been applied in the context of justifying indefinite SHU status, and progressively restricting our programming and privileges.

The response given by CDCR to this first of the core demands was:

Individual Accountability. Response. This issue has already been addressed through implementation and adoption of the STG and Step-Down programs.

But of course this short answer to the decades of torturous conditions in the SHU’s is a spin to make us all believe CDCR really listens to demands. In fact, CDCR has come up with a different idea of “behavior change:” Cognitive Restructuring, making the Step-Down-Program very long and without guarantees that people will actually be removed from these tortuous conditions. There are also no safeguards, such as an independent commission to oversee CDCR’s managing of their Step-Down-Programs.

Coercive journaling, or ‘Cognitive Restructuring’-propaganda

Under these mandatory Cognitive Restructuring programs, prisoners in the SHU have to fill out ‘journals.’ These  journals were derived from Cognitive Restructuring theories that seek to ‘correct wrongful thinking.’ Some law enforcement groups have taken this programming over: for instance the American Community Corrections Institute (ACCI) works with these programs.

In New Mexico, Cognitive Restructuring was a cause for ACLU-NM to take action against it being implemented in supermax prisons.

“What is disturbing, and at the root of the ACLU lawsuit, is the use of segregation in concert with this program: if you don’t give the right answer, you get more time in lockup. … It is sold as a self-imposed hypnotism for quitting habits, overcoming insomnia and bettering life. Put in a prison situation, where the wrong answer nets an inmate punishment in the form of time in solitary, cognitive restructuring becomes brainwashing.” (The Hate Factory, by G. Hirliman, p.xi).

The program is like a forced conversion to a religion, the religion of Cognitive Restructuring, with Stanton Samenow (author of Inside the Criminal Mind) as its high priest.

Prisoners in the SHU have written about this psychological belief and spoke out against making this mandatory inside the SHU’s in order to progress to “general population.” Here they write:

“And while the new policies will result in some prisoners being released to general population, these new policies do not represent a pathway to general population or even a less restrictive housing environment, as the CDCR is quick to claim for certain prisoners.

Specifically though, it is the CDCR’s attempt to brainwash us all through their behavior modification program. And that is exactly what the cognitive restructuring program is.We have had the opportunity to see and read the self-directed journals. They are insidious.”

Was this what the people inside California’s SHU’s went on three hunger strikes for?
On Jan. 31st,the Sacramento Bee posted an article about the proposed Step Down Program regulations, in which we read:

“The new program lets gang associates have their gang validation removed from their record after completing the minimum three-year rehabilitation program and going six additional years without a disciplinary charge related to gang behavior.

Those who are considered gang leaders would have to complete [sic] remain without a gang-related disciplinary violation for at least 11 years after completing the program before the gang designation could be removed by a prison committee.”


Those locked up in SHU’s in California’s prisons can ask themselves: ‘Is this what the three hunger strikes to protest the policies that lead to indefinite solitary confinement, being locked down permanently, were suffered for?’ To still do 11 (14) years under threat of being returned to the SHU, until a prisoner no longer has a picture of a dragon or an Aztec God in his or her cell? Also, what is a “gang-related disciplinary violation”? A ‘wrong’ book or drawing in your cell? That is not an act of violence people on the outside might consider a danger to security.

CDCR is spinning the whole story their way again, of how they have labeled people in a gang a “Security Threat Group,” and have created solitary confinement units to (so they try to convince us) combat gangs, while convincing the people using propaganda which can be summarized as “Look how evil ‘gang members’ are. You, STG-member/Associate can be saved, sinner!” CDCR wants us to believe in their supreme religion of Cognitive Restructuring, and the need to place people in lockdown/segregation/solitary confinement indefinitely.

With this coerced journaling, CDCR attempts to manipulate the thoughts of those inside, many of whom are 40+, have been educating themselves, and do not need to be ‘restructured.’ What kind of a new belief is this? Not all people inside are and think alike, which is another dogma CDCR wants us to believe.

Of course people need to get out of the SHU if they can. But the CDCR has been playing a game to set their agenda and it is not as good as it sounds, because basically this will cost a lot more time, money (for instance, for the journaling: each journal costs $2.70) plus they use this method to tell the people outside: “look, with the help of these cognitive restructuringprograms, they have a chance to become better again.” (see for instance for a background and examples of questions in these journaling tactics here).

As Mutope Duguma (47), who himself is incarcerated inside the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU, already wrote in 2012:

“If anyone thinks that those of us held in solitary confinement units need to go through gang management programs at the ages of 40 to 70-plus years, they are only fooling themselves.

There are NO gang members or gang bangers in the “short corridor” at Pelican Bay, only grown men who came into these institutions at very young ages, who have educated themselves, and who in many cases were never gang members from the get go. What you have back here are political prisoners, jail house lawyers, strong minded influential prisoners who understand the games correctional officers and officials play. 

Those of us who did come into these prisons with a backward mindset do not adhere to that gang nonsense anymore. It’s crazy to tell us, who’ve been in solitary confinement units from 10 to 40 years, that we’ve got to go through a “step down program,” or SDP, in order to get out, when we’ve been held illegally and subjected to physical and psychological torment throughout our stay in these torture chambers.”


It would not be surprising at all if Jeffrey Beard, who himself has an education in Psychology, was behind this and had the Change Companies, who publish these journals, step in as ‘saviors.’

If CDCR wanted these programs and really wanted people to move through step-down programs, they could have done so decades ago, but they apparently did not want this.

Three hunger strikes were necessary to get CDCR to reconsider its indefinite SHU / solitary confinement / permanent lockdown plans.

Therefore, CDCR has had to come up with this Step-Down-Program to look good, in the propaganda of a tax-payer-funded Department, and not to let down their powerful lobby of the CCPOA. CDCR should have talked with the prisoners and listened, and they should have acknowledged, that being kept in solitary confinement / administrative segregation / indefinite lockdown for a month, a year, a decade, or more, is torture and not something a judge ordered in a court of law.

It would be good if everyone was aware what games CDCR is playing with their propaganda-machine. This is an evil game. It is based on convincing the public outside and inside to believe CDCR, the torturer, is the only party to have a say in how to solve a torture program they have been conducting since decades. We should demand decency and honesty from CDCR.
 Feb. 10, 2014
By CaliforniaPrisonWatch.org

Prisoners reject CDCR proposal; threaten new hunger strike

From: Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Dec. 17th 2012

The Short Corridor Collective at Pelican Bay State Prison has asked us to publish a letter denouncing the reforms proposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The collective remains in steadfast opposition to the proposal, which they rejected in March of this year. This statement responds to the CDCR’s July proposal revision, saying: “We remain 100% opposed to CDCR’s revised proposal for the same reasons stated publicly [last March].” More pointedly, it also says: “We cannot accept the garbage proposal from CDCR!”

This latest rejection does not come softly, as it also threatens “return to non-violent, peaceful protest actions in the form of indefinite hunger strike and no work” if the CDCR doesn’t shift directions and revamp the reforms to appeal to the internationally recognized human rights framework.

Short Corridor Collective letter:

Greetings from the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective to all who stand with us in solidarity and support our struggle to force an end to this nation’s draconian practice of subjecting tens-of-thousands of prisoners to the torture of long term isolation cells… via an ongoing nonviolent peaceful effort, inside and out.

This is an update on the current status of our struggle here in California, wherein upwards of 14,000(+) prisoners are presently held in isolation cells, several hundred have been held indefinitely in isolation (SHU) cells for the past 10 to 30 years, solely based on “status”, rather than illegal behavior – specifically, on decades of SHU isolation is based on a CDCR gang classification label, i.e. “status of a label”, without ever being found guilty of committing a gang-related criminal act! Notably, our CDCR-OCS/IGI gang validations, and related decades of SHU torture, are based on what CDCR claims to be “intelligence-based evidence of criminal gang activity” consisting of: (a) innocent associational/political type activity; and/or (b) confidential prison informants “unsubstantiated allegations” of involvement in criminal activity!

We remain in the SHU and were not impressed after receiving and carefully reviewing CDCR’s June 29, 2012 revised proposal re: Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy, which they plan to begin as a pilot program in October.

We remain 100% opposed to CDCR’s revised proposal for the same reasons stated publicly – in response to this March version, the proposal fails to meet our five core demands, and violates our October 2011 argument with CDCR undersecretary Kernan , wherein, among other things, we agreed to suspend our hunger strike activism in order to give CDCR additional time to change SHU policies and practices into a reasonable individual accountability/behavior-based system (e.g. SHU would be reserved for prisoners charged for, and found guilty of, committing a serious offense… a felony!).

Instead of this agreed-upon policy change, we patiently sit here for another year only to have CDCR come at me with more of the same garbage we rejected in March… Thereby making clear to us that obtaining real changes will require us to resume our non-violent, peaceful protest actions; in the form of a hunger strike and no work, protests to the death if necessary! Our decision to do so has not come lightly, and is supported by the following facts and circumstances.

Beginning in February 2010, we became united in our efforts to collectively expose and bring a peaceful end to the CDCR policies and practices reference 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 a “formal complaint” document, copies of which were sent to numerous lawmakers, organizations, groups and individuals, including former Governor Schwarzenegger and CDCR Secretary Cate. [To review our formal complaint, go to http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/formal-complaint/].

As of early 2011, the formal complain had resulted in no relief, and our conditions in SHU had become more oppressive! Therefore, we decided that our sole avenue for gaining the mainstream exposure and outside support for our case – to end our torture – was for us to put our lives on the line via peaceful protest hunger strike action. In May/June 2011, we served governor Brown, and Secretary Cate with another copy of a formal complaint and our final notice of the July 1st hunger strike (with the five core demands, available now at www.prisons.org; click on Prisoners’ 5 Core Demands in the left column).

True to our words, 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 20th, in response to our face-to-face negotiation with CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan, et al, who admitted early on in the process that our five core demands “were all reasonable”, and CDCR “should have made changes twenty-years ago”… and who 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 September 26, 2011. The response was for CDCR to take retaliating actions, including the subjection of fifteen of us to additional torture (Todd Asher, C58191; Arturo Castellanos, C17275; Charles Coleman, C60680; Mutope Duguma/James Crawford, D05996; Sitawa Nantamu Jamaa/Dewberry, C35671; J. Brian Elrod, H25268; George Franco, D46556; Antonio Guillen, P81948; Paul Jones, B26077; Louis Powel, B59864; Paul Redd, B72683; Alfred Sandoval, D61000; Danny Troxell, B76578; James Baridi Williamson, D34288; and Ronnie Yandell, V27927). We were placed into 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 cell.”

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

Between October 13, 2011 and now, the CDCR has failed to honor their end of our prior agreements to substantively change SHU policies and practices, no such policies and practices are in line with our five core demands; and they have made it clear that they have no intension of doing so… by moving forward with their June 29, 2012 revised proposal, in spite of our March 2012 written opposition to their related March proposal – and presentation of our counter-proposal (available here).

Our outside mediation team and the Prison Law Office also presented CDCR with related written opposition to the proposal (mediation team statement available here; PLO opposition available here). In typical fashion, the CDCR totally disregarded the above referenced oppositions and counterproposal!

At this point, we remain opposed to CDCR’s proposal based on their refusal to bring the policies and practices at issue into line with our five core demands, as demonstrated by the below, briefly summarized, examples:

Core demand #1 – “Eliminate group punishments…” CDCR’s revised proposal fails to honor this demand and makes it clear that prisoners validated as STG-I Members will automatically be subject to indefinite SHU confinement… until they successfully complete the four year minimum step-down program, or debrief (see CDCR’s June proposal at p#22). This is status-based group punishment!

Core Demand #2 – “Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria…”. The main points of this demand are:

(a) the debriefing policy is illegal! Especially in the context of subjecting SHU prisoners to indefinite, progressively more torturous conditions for the purpose of coercing them to become state informants (which in turn, places them and their families in serious danger!); and, it produces fabricated allegations from prisoners desperate to get out of SHU!!

(b) prisoners being denied inactive status, and release to General Population, based on CDCR, OCS-IGI’s version of “intelligence”-based documentation of involvement in gang activity (i.e. innocent associational/political type activity; and/or, confidential prisoner debriefer-informants “unsubstantiated allegations” of involvement in illegal activity), without any formal changes being filed!We’ve repeatedly made it clear that SHU confinement must be reserved solely for prisoners who are charged for and found guilty of serious rule violation – meriting a reasonable determinate SHU-term! This is non-negotiable!!

CDCR’s revised proposal fails to honor this demand by maintaining their illegal debriefing policy; and, making it clear that SHU-STG prisoners will remain indefinitely confined in SHU “… based upon intelligence and/or confirmed behaviors” (see proposal, pp# 7, 8, 9);

“…while in the program, if the STG-I Member (or Associate), exhibits STG behaviors, staff shall report the behavior using appropriate documentation. Once documented by the IGI the subject will be referred to the STG-Committee and ICC for a program, privilege or housing review. The behavior may lead to a loss of privileges, retention in the currest step, or regression to a previous step.” (Id. Proposal at P# 34)…

“Documentation may be in the form of disciplinary reports, compelling changes, confidential memorandum and/or other sources documenting behaviors and intelligence”. (Id. Proposal, p# 21).

Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the same policy and practice used and abused by CDCR, OCS-IGI for the past 13 years to deny us inactive status!! (See CCR Title 15, at pp# 2020-222 re: basis for denying inactive status!).

This constitutes a blatant violation of our October 2011 agreement and is 100% unacceptable!!

Core demand #3 – Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006), calling for an end to long term solitary confinement…”CDCR’s revised proposal makes a mockery of this core demand! The authors of the proposal insult everyone’s intelligence by changing titles and words, while actually changing nothing re: policies and practices at issue that have been used and abused repeatedly… resulting in our subjection to decades of torture in these SHU/Ad-Seg solitary cells!!

Importantly, if the proposal is allowed to stand, it will result in many more prisoners being subject to the torture of long term isolation by way of the STG designation(s), and related criteria for indefinite placement in SHU!! All prisoners across the state need to make a collective stand and peacefully protest this proposal, because it will adversely impact all prisoners and our loved ones outside!!

We have made it clear that we shouldn’t have to jump through more hoops to be released from SHU! We’ve already been tormented and tortured in SHU for decades!! The Step-Down Program should be for prisoners serving determinate SHU terms to be able to shorten their SHU term; it should be no more than eighteen months from start to finish; needs to begin with meaningful incentives that include the ability to earn time off their sentence, opportunity for out-of-cell contact with other prisoners, regular phone calls and contact visits, and programs that prepare the prisoner for return to, first general population and ultimately civilian life!! We oppose CDCR’s proposed version of a Step Down Program… Four years is too long, and the incentives are a joke!!

The above points illustrate CDCR’s failure to act in good faith in response to our five core demands, and related agreements with CDCR Undersecretary Kernan, et al, during our July-October negotiations! Last year we made it clear to CDCR, and the world, that we were drawing the line and would no longer silently accept the torture upon ourselves and our loved ones outside!

We let it be known that our plan was to use non-violent, peaceful protest activity in the form of an indefinite hunger strike – to the death if necessary – in order to achieve our goal of forcing an end to CDCR’s illegal policies and practices at issue, via our own sacrifice, and related mainstream expense and solid outside support!

We’ve had some success regarding worldwide exposure, and we have solid outside support standing with us in solidarity… And – we have patiently pursued all available avenues to try and get CDCR to honor our reasonable demands; and presently, our final avenue is an open letter to governor Brown, asking him to order Secretary Cate to get right! If this is not successful, we will have no other option than to return to non-violent, peaceful protest actions in the form of indefinite hunger strike and no work!!

We cannot accept the garbage proposal from CDCR! We cannot allow the four prisoner deaths in support of our cause to be forgetting and many of us are fully committed to making the same sacrifice if need be to force meaningful changes to this corrupt system… and we will be serving CDCR with our notice of intent to resume our peaceful/non-violent protest actions in the near future, and if CDCR continues to refuse to act right on our five core demands, as spelled out above!!!

We want to extend our heartfelt appreciation to all of our outside supporters, including but not limited to the people with the following organizations: LSPC, CPE, Rock, SF Bayview, CFASC, JRA Advocate, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), and Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Amnesty International. The latter two organizations have selflessly supported our cause via the March filing of our UN petition (CHRCL), and the May filing of our class action suit (CCR et al); these efforts are greatly appreciated, and are very beneficial to our cause (e.g. helping provide continued worldwide exposure, etc, etc, etc)!! However, the UN hasn’t acted on our petition, and the Federal Court process moves very slowly…

The bottom line is: We are ultimately the ones responsible for continuing to force reforms via our collective efforts in here!!! It’s time to move forward and make it happen!!!

In memory of: Johnny Owen Vick, Hozel Alonzo Blanchard, Christian Gomez, and Alex Machado, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our cause (PBHRM)… make no mistake, none of us wants to die, but, we are prepared to, if that’s what it takes to force a real reform!!!

Onward in struggle, with solidarity and respect

PBSP Short Corridor Main Representatives

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