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 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
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.
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Photo Credit: Delos Johnson-Lost-In-Maylene
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