[Pnews] Hundreds of California Prisoners in Isolation Should Be Covered by Class Action, Attorneys Argue in Court

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 27 10:42:29 EDT 2013

  Federal Judge, Claudia Wilkins, said Thursday she is likely to allow a
  lawsuit alleging that solitary confinement conditions at Pelican Bay
  State Prison amount to psychological torture, to be expanded from the
  cases of 10 prisoners to include hundreds of inmates now held in
  indefinite isolation for gang validation without due process.
  Proceedings were moved into a large courtroom in Oakland and still,
  insufficient seats meant many prisoner supporters had to wait for
  their opportunity to witness the arguments.

  The hearing was preceded by a spirited rally in front of the Oakland
  Federal Building.

  Hundreds of California Prisoners in Isolation Should Be Covered by
  Class Action, Attorneys Argue in Court


press at ccrjustice.org

/September 26, 2013, Oakland --/ Today, lawyers from the Center for 
Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged a federal judge to grant class action 
status to a lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement in 
California prisons.  The case, /Ashker v. Brown/ 
<http://ccrjustice.org/pelican-bay>, was filed on behalf of 10 prisoners 
in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at the notorious Pelican Bay State 
Prison who have spent over ten years, and as many as 29 years, in 
solitary confinement. Three weeks ago, California prisoners, including 
plaintiffs in /Ashker/, suspended their third hunger strike protesting 
their confinement and conditions, after 60 days.  More than 500 Pelican 
Bay prisoners have been isolated in the SHU for over 10 years; more than 
200 have been there for over 15 years; and 78 have been isolated in the 
SHU for more than 20 years.  Class certification will allow remedies in 
the case to apply to all Pelican Bay SHU prisoners who have been held in 
solitary confinement for more than 10 years.
"There are hundreds of prisoners at Pelican Bay who have been suffering 
just as long and in the same appalling conditions as our clients," said 
Center for Constitutional Rights Staff Attorney Alexis Agathocleous, who 
argued today.  "If the length of time prisoners are held in isolation 
and the conditions they live under are unconstitutional, they are 
unconstitutional for everyone, not just the 10 named plaintiffs in the 
suit, and any remedies should apply to everyone affected."
The lawsuit alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eighth 
Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, and that 
the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violates the 
prisoners' right to due process.  SHU prisoners spend 22 ½ to 24 hours a 
day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell.  They are denied telephone 
calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational or educational 
According to experts in the case, who have interviewed the plaintiffs 
and other Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, long-term solitary confinement is 
"well-known to cause severe psychiatric morbidity, disability, 
suffering, and mortality."  Further, "[t]he magnitude of the suffering 
that [these prisoners] have endured... is difficult to fathom.  ... 
[They] have lost a connection to the basic sense of who they 'were.'"
Because SHU prisoners do not receive any meaningful review of their 
placement, their isolation can effectively be permanent.  Though a 
prisoner's SHU placement is ostensibly reviewed once every 6 years, 
prisoners are routinely placed and held in the SHU without any gang 
activity, violent conduct, or serious rule infraction.  Rather, they are 
labeled "gang affiliates" and have been confined in isolation for 
activities such as reading about Black history, creating or possessing 
cultural artwork, or writing in Spanish or Swahili.
In October 2012, the CDCR introduced a pilot program aimed at addressing 
some of the issues raised in the suit, but the changes are neither 
permanent, nor do they resolve the fundamental deficiencies in the 
policies that have been in place for years, say critics.
"The step down program does nothing to resolve the fundamental wrong of 
keeping men in isolation in perpetuity based on flimsy evidence, 
arbitrary decisions, and policies designed to inflict mental and 
physical abuse. It is a glossy sugar coat over a rancid practice," said 
attorney Charles Carbone
SHU assignments disproportionately affect Black and Latino prisoners.  
The percentage of Latinos in the Pelican Bay SHU, for example, was 85% 
in 2011, far higher than their representation in the general prison 
population, which was 41%.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, 
Siegel & Yee, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone are co-counsel on 
the case.
/Ashker v. Brown/ <http://ccrjustice.org/pelican-bay>, amends an earlier 
/pro se /lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay SHU prisoners Todd Ashker and 
Danny Troxell.  The case is before Judge Claudia Wilken in the United 
States District Court for the Northern District of California.

/The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and 
protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and 
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys 
who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit 
legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law 
as a positive force for social change./

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