Settlement Ends Indefinite Solitary Confinement in California
Up to 2,000 people in solitary confinement will be re-evaluated for release into California's maximum-security general prison population over the next year - the result of a landmark legal settlement announced Tuesday.
A group serving time in the Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit, some of whom had been in solitary more than 20 years, brought the class-action lawsuit three years ago. They also led several massive hunger strikes to draw attention to their case.
Attorney Carol Strickman with the nonprofit group Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, worked on the case and hailed it as a major victory. She called solitary confinement a form of torture.
"It is cruel and inhumane," she said. "It deprives people of human contact. It involves sensory deprivation and has a devastating impact on people's mental health and physical health."
The state of California now has agreed to stop putting people in solitary solely for associating with a prison gang, and to limit any one person's stay in solitary at Pelican Bay to five years.
Unions for prison guards have complained that the changes could lead to more prison violence, but Strickman said the Department of Corrections reports few problems with people already moved out of solitary.
"Many hundreds of people in the last two years have been transferred," she said, "and there have been very few serious incidents."
The settlement agreement still needs final approval from the judge, which she said is expected in the next few months.
The settlement summary is online at prisonerswithchildren.org.