[Ppnews] Solitary Confinement In California

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 14 14:04:14 EST 2012

  Essay: Solitary Confinement In California

Posted on December 12, 2012 

Anthony Arteaga, a prisoner being held in the Security Housing Unit at 
Corcoran State Prison, sent us an essay he wrote about the history of 
solitary confinement in California. In his words:

    "Having been slammed down in the SHU since 2001, for an
    indeterminate period, I've constructed this writing based on
    personal experience and studies. I've also utilized PHSS, the Rock,
    The Abolitionist, MIM and PLN as resources for factual
    assertions... Thank you for the support."

Anthony also asked us to publish his name and address, which is at the 
bottom of this page. The article is typed as written. Please take time 
for a thorough read through!

*Solitary Confinement In California*

In the 1970s there was a general tendency to regard the basic aim of 
imprisonment as rehabilitation of the criminal rather than as 
punishment. In addition, federal courts -- often as a result of 
prisoners acting as their own lawyers -- began to recognize for the 
first time that prisoners had constitutional rights: Most notably, the 
right to due process prior to discipline, any sanctions, and freedom 
from cruel and unusual punishment in the form of deplorable prison 

This of course didn't last. Before long the emphasis on prisoners' 
rights and prison reform, distinguishably trail blazed by the events at 
Attica State Prison in New York, followed by several other less 
publicized prison uprisings and riots of the same agenda, began to 
evaporate in the face of the "tough on crime" and "war on drugs" crusades.

By the mid-1970's, a series of decisions by the US Supreme Court, gutted 
the protections earlier envisioned as guarantees of prisoners' 
well-being and dignity. Rather than to continue implementing programs of 
rehabilitation, prisoncrats throughout the country began to develop 
special solitary confinement units (control/Security Housing Units/etc).

One of the very first of these units to be built was at the Marion 
Federal Penitentiary in Illinois. Here, men were being confined to tiny 
cells the size of a parking space for 23 to 24 hours a day. Solitary 
confinement units have always been part of the prison environment. In 
some cases it has been used to place prisoners in protective custody, 
when either the prisoner or prison staff believed that a life 
threatening situation existed. And of course, solitary confinement has 
traditionally been used as a disciplinary measure to punish infractions 
of prison rules.

However, the idea of these control/SHU's was very different; namely, 
that certain prisoners had to be permanently separated from the general 
population due to their supposed influence over other prisoners. In 
essence, they were now being subjugated to prolonged isolation for 
indefinite periods; whereby being relegated to the status of 
incorrigible specimens who can only be governed, controlled, conditioned 
and suppressed to dehumanizing submission. In simple terms, to break a 
man's spirit.

This idea soon caught on and isolation units were being established 
everywhere, and not long before they were being specially constructed 
into new prisons.

For over 25 years here in California, the Department of Corrections 
(CDCR) has had a policy of removing prisoners from the general 
population, validating them as either prison gang members or associates, 
and indefinitely confining them to said types of isolation units. And 
just like other political figures, prison officials used propaganda 
about the supposed menace of these prison gangs, and the difficulties 
and dangers of dealing with them, to encourage and maintain public 
indifference to what prisoners were actually going through on the inside.

In the 1980's, under the above guise, most of these men were placed at 
either, Duel Vocational Institute (Tracy), [old] Folsom, San Quentin and 
Soledad Correctional Training Facility, where over one fifth of the 
general population at these institutions were housed in each of its 
segregated lockup units.

Ultimately falling in line with the trends of the time, California 
opened up three maximum-Security Housing Units of its own at Tehachapi, 
Corcoran and Pelican Bay. Most recently, a fourth SHU opened up at [old] 
Folsom, where approximately 4,000 men, combined, have now been housed 
for up to 5, 10, 20 and even over 30 years.

These SHU's are literally human warehouses saturated by recycled air and 
blight monotony. Both days and nights are cloaked with the eerie sense 
of history slowly repeating itself. Specifically that of the 16^th  -- 
19^th  centuries, where the indigenous populations of the Americas were 
gradually being eradicated by its oppressors. Only difference here is 
committing the actual deed itself, and the name it's being done under: 
"safety and security" -- both of which resemble "Liberty" in that many 
crimes are committed in its name.

By 1997, 45 states and the District of Columbia, as well as the federal 
system, were operating these types of units, with California holding the 
most prisoners within them than any other US state or nation. This fact 
continues to grow at an alarming rate.

The majority of California prisoners serving indeterminate SHU terms are 
the result of these pseudo-prison gang validations. Gang policies to 
which civil rights lawyers have long been critical of. The procedures 
used to identify gang affiliates are severely flawed and lacking in 
meaningful due process protections. Evidence used in these proceedings 
would never satisfy the "preponderance of the evidence" requirement of a 
normal legal proceeding. But because of the US Supreme Court decision in 
Superintendent v. Hill (1985) holding that the due process clause 
requires only the existence of "some evidence" in support of a decision 
to segregate an inmate, the court gave prison administrators more 
arbitrary powers and discretion over prisoners' daily lives. This 
naturally leading to shrinking further and further the process of any 
accountability for, or recourse from, the many perverse ways they've 
come to abuse that power.

Under current policy, validated prisoners are not allowed to confront 
their accusers (or even to know who they are), nor are they allowed to 
cross-examine witnesses, present their own evidence or prove their case 
before a panel of neutral decision-makers. You're basically guilty, and 
there's no "until proven innocent".

In 1999, after many individual petitions and class action suits brought 
before both state and federal courts challenging these policies, and 
inhumane SHU conditions, the six year "active/inactive gang status 
review" was implemented. A policy requiring a validated inmate to remain 
free of any and all gang related activity and association for no period 
less than six years, in order to be considered (and rarely granted) 
general population release.

A policy and process just as flawed as ones initial gang validation, 
because the crux of it is, gang activity is whatever these alleged gang 
intelligence experts choose to deem as gang related, without being 
afforded a meaningful opportunity of contesting them.

The procedural due process currently in place consists of being reviewed 
every 180 days and annually. However, these reviews are largely 
meaningless gestures and shams of proceedings in light of the fact that, 
one first has to complete the minimal six year requisite.

Since the late 1990's to present, it's evident that inmates are not 
being validated to restore order or to maintain security, but 
maliciously for the purpose of causing pain and inflicting punishment in 
an attempt to break a man's spirit. Equally evident is the fact that, 
despite the creation of California SHU's, prison violence in the general 
population setting is far more violent now than it was over 25 years ago.

Said California prison gang validations have become a pretext to 
indefinitely confine its inmates to these SHUs at the expense of their 
well-being, and its only real escape coming in one of three ways... An 
individual can either choose to "debrief" -- that is, to tell gang 
investigators everything they know about who's involved in gang activity 
both inside and outside of the prison system, including crimes in which 
they've committed themselves; "parole" or "die". "Snitch, parole or 
die", as the policy is more commonly known by.

Mental deterioration runs rampant and silent within the confines of 
these SHU's. In fact, social science and clinical literature has 
consistently reported that, men are social animals, and when human 
beings are subjected to social isolation and reduced environmental 
stimulation, their lives both internally and externally is disrupted, 
inevitably leading to the development of a predictable group of 
symptoms, e.g. anxiety, frustration, dejections, boredom, abandonment, 
paranoia, rumination and severe depression. Facts supported by an ample 
and growing body of evidence that this phenomenon especially occurs 
among prisoners in solitary confinement... persons who are by definition 
subjected to a significant degree of social isolation and reduced 
environmental stimulation.

In 2011, after endless years of withstanding such psychological torture, 
a collective group of men confined to Pelican Bay SHU initiated two 
separate state-wide hunger strikes, during the months of July and 
September. These protests were aimed towards contesting the inhumane 
conditions indefinite SHU confinement inmates have been subjugated to. 
This collective group compiled a list of five demands for CDCR 
officials. Those demands were:

1.     End group punishment and administrative abuse;
2.     Abolish the debriefing policy and modify the active/inactive gang 
status review criteria;
3.     Comply with the commission of safety and abuse in America's 
prisons 2006 recommendations regarding ending long-term solitary 
4.     Provide adequate and nutritious food; and
5.     Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for 
prisoners held in indeterminate SHU status.

In October of 2011, in response to said hunger strikes, CDCR officials 
outlined changes that would be made in the SHU program. And in March of 
2012, released new proposed gang management policies. Under the new 
policies however, accused gang members can still be segregated 
indefinitely, SHU conditions remain largely the same, and other changes 
are mere window-dressing. Overall, CDCR's proposal shows that they will 
continue to resist both change and accountability.

The month of March was also significant with Juan Mendez, a United 
Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture (followed by California prisoner 
and their advocates), petitioning the UN to end lengthy solitary 
confinement in prisons. Expressing that it would inevitably result in 
serious mental and physical damage amounting to torture.

So what lies ahead... A united group of human beings determined to bring 
about actual SHU reform, and regaining the right to being treated 
humanely. This comes with the knowledge that, the oppressing power in 
opposition to such changes, will concede to nothing absent a committed 
struggle and demand... A struggle and demand that will come at a cost, 
but a cost to which strength to live and reasons for acting should 
continue to be drawn from.

In solidarity,
Anthony Arteaga #K48159
Csp. Corcoran SHU 4B3R #48
PO Box 3481
Corcoran, CA 93212

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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