California Prison Inmates Sue: “Solitary Confinement Is Torture”

A civil rights group has sued California’s prison system, claiming its use of long-term solitary confinement for the high-security inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California is torture and therefore violates the prisoners’ human rights.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal group based in Oakland, CA, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of inmates who have spent more than 10 years in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit, asking that they be released from the unit.

The suit comes after hunger strikes were staged last July by thousands of inmates at numerous prisons across the state, protesting the conditions in Secure Housing Units at Pelican Bay, and at prisons in Tehachapi and Corcoran. Within eight days, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation admitted that at least 6,600 prisoners in at least 13 of the state’s prisons were refusing food.

78 Prisoners In Solitary For More Than 20 Years

The lawsuit demands prison reforms on behalf of the more than 500 current inmates who have been held in Secure Housing Units in the maximum-security prison, which involves prolonged isolation in the 80-square-foot, windowless cells for all but 90 minutes a day, for between 10 and 28 years. Seventy-eight of those prisoners have been in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison for more than 20 years.

The unit at Pelican Bay State Prison houses more than 1,000 maximum-security inmates who are suspected of being prison gang leaders, or who have committed crimes while in prison. They are allowed no human contact.

Some inmates, according to the lawsuit, have been there for years based solely on the possession of a few gang drawings. Nor, say the attorneys, is there a clear process through which inmates may have the alleged gang affiliation reviewed and removed, thus allowing them to leave the unit.

United Nations Calls For Nation-Wide Ban On Solitary Confinement

From truthout:

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, urged the U.S. to cease the practice except in very rare cases:
Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique. [...] Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Numerous human rights groups also maintain that ending solitary confinement is an integral step in putting a stop to torture and maintaining the basic moral standards of our nation.

Isolation is psychologically harmful to any prisoner, with the nature and severity of the impact depending on the individual, the duration, and particular conditions. Psychological effects can include anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis.

And the fact that 78 of the Pelican Bay inmates have been subjected to these conditions for at least 20 years is shameful.

What do you think?

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Photo Credit: Delos Johnson-Lost-In-Maylene


Thomas M.
Tom McPhee3 years ago

Maybe if the punnishment is sever enough the criminals will think twice before they go out and commit a crime, or if they go through it once maybe they won't be to quick to break the law again. what about thier victims? they haven"t seen any justice in some cases,

Stanley Rampersad
Stanley Balgobin4 years ago

Solitary confinement is cruel and inhuman punishment and constitutes torture.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Oh, Tom? My world isn't bitter at all. Quite the contrary. I just don't fill it with chauvenists such as yourself, nor bleeding hearts who think rapists and murderers need to be given luxuries.

Speaking of prisoners' rights, Kathy, where are you coming up with the idea that convicts have no access to attorneys? that's not exactly what you said, but that was the implication. Lots of "maybe's" in your comment..........yes, maybe there's a tooth fairy as well. Maybe Charles Manson isn't guilty. Maybe Casey Anderson will be given the justice she deserves. MAYBE Kyron Hormon's stepmother will reveal what happened to him. MAYBE Susan Powell's remains will be found so her family can rest in peace.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Tough. I suppose you think I'm stupid enough to post his name & address? Live with it, some women don't feel the need to "cow tow" to men. You don't state your marital status, so don't have a clue if you are married or single, but you gave me an "offer", so one can only guess. Like I said, you aren't my type, not to mention you look too old for me.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Hey, Tom...........just joined Care.2 two days ago, but "heard" I just participate in discussions to argue ONLY? Interesting, since there was only one member in this discussion that has a familiar username to me. I must have many fans or stalkers, not sure which.

Remember, I didn't attack you personally, just your remarks. That is 100% acceptable according to Care.2's C.O.C., which I highly suggest you might read. On the other hand, you've insulted me very personally, including the remark about my avatar. You've been out-of-line and guess it's been that way for half a century, according to your own statement.

Carry on, I have more important things to do. These discussions are often called "conversations", but sometimes that's impossible when the other "side" has no capability of conversing without insults. I won't be insulted, at least not personally in a site like this one by somebody such as yourself.

Tom H.
Thomas Hayes4 years ago

Diane I really doubt that you have a boyfriend with your attitude

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Tom, that was not only rude but extremely inappropriate. It's being flagged. I know where you live, you stated that in your profile. I'm also not the slightest bit lonely and my boyfriend would agree. You're not my type.

BTW, I don't come in here to just argue with anyone, but when somebody comments with an asinine remark or one that is full enough of holes to strain cheese with, yes, I'll refute it or state my own opinion. Deal with that. I "don't listen" because I disagree with you or find what you've said a bit suspicious? I'd ask you who died and made you my boss, but that wouldn't be respectful, would it? If you bothered to follow all my Care.2 activity, you'd know that I very often post in complete agreement with others, and to the writer of the article. If I don't, I do believe it's my right as a member to state my opinions. Maybe you're still mentally living 50 years ago when women didn't dare disagee with a man?

Tom H.
Thomas Hayes4 years ago

Diane you just dont listen because you have your head up your A-- sideways and your ears are covered. I think you come on here just to argue with people and I have heard that about you, like no matter what position someone takes you take the opposite and start an argument. Good luck to you. You must be lonely. Hey I live in Oregon maybe I could make you less lonely.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Kathy M., why should prisons "rehabilite" or think they should even try, every prisoner? Many are sent there with every intention to just incarcerate to PUNISH and there can't be any thought of rehabilitation. Please don't tell me you think a mass murderer like Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahlmer or Gary Ridgway can be rehabilitated? There have been a few who might "fit" (even one of the Manson' women) but most who get sent to a maximum security facility are just violent, flat out evil people (and I said MOST, certainly not ALL). There are countless stories about prisoners who were given a bit of "slack" and thought were being "rehabilitated" and they ended up killing guards or other prisoners. A recent incident in my area at Monroe (Washington State Penitentiary) comes to mind. A convict (rapist and murderer) killed a female guard in the Chapel.

Tom, if your story is true, then as I said, and you just confirmed it, there was "more" to the story than just "adultery", and it was a military prison and what, 50 years ago? Crap, we did many things 50 years ago that we've realized was not right and hopefully, have changed for the better. 50 years ago, you couldn't buy meat or milk on a Sunday, either. Yes, I remember those words being "slung", and my ex-husband was in the Navy, and he got tossed in the brig but probably deserved it. You don't do what he did in Yokuska, Japan and disrespect M.P.'s, either. Back then, pregnant girls couldn't stay in high schoo

Tom H.
Thomas Hayes4 years ago

Hey Diane wow you do make sense, what is funny was the warden of the brig was gay and they had microphones throughout the brig (we didnt know it) and he was obviously gay and everyone knew it. The people that ended up in Seg or the dungeon were people who discussed his sexual preferences and that way 50 years ago and they used the words like fag and those were the people who ended up in seg. I was not one of those but honestly I had a rep for being very tough and went I entered the brig I went straight to seg and I accepted it very well but the guys who called the warden a fag didnt deserve solitary isolation for a few words now did they? Just my thoughts. I didnt know why Everhart ended up in the dungeon but after he went totally nuts and ended up in the real nuthouse I ended up in the dungeon for about two weeks or until I actually broke the metal door away from the concrete wall. They put me back in a seg cell and we got along famously from that point on until I left for federal prison in Portsmith New Hampshire for another 2 years and was in honor company there for the duration of my Adultery sentence.