[Pnews] Pelican Bay Solitary confinement case set to expand

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 27 10:43:07 EDT 2013

  Solitary confinement case set to expand

By Paige St. John

September 26, 2013, 5:28 p.m.

OAKLAND -- A federal judge Thursday said 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 about 1,100 inmates now held in 
indefinite isolation.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken expressed concern at a hearing, 
however, that changes the state has made in how it identifies inmates 
for isolation means those prisoners won't be included in the pending 
class-action lawsuit.

What's more, lawyers for the state say they are in the process of moving 
some existing prisoners out of confinement in Pelican Bay's 
super-maximum security isolation cells.

"I'm wondering how I would manage a class that has people moving in and 
out," Wilken said. Nevertheless, she used Thursday's hearing in Oakland 
to set Nov. 3, 2014, for the trial. Her ruling over whether that trial 
will be a class action, or remain confined to the few inmates who filed 
the case, is yet to be decided.

Inmates in Pelican Bay's segregation units spend 22.5 hours a day 
confined to their cells and, though some have cellmates, are otherwise 
allowed limited human contact and few activities to occupy their time. 
They are allowed fewer possessions than other inmates, cannot earn 
good-time credits toward early release like other inmates and are 
generally refused parole.

The lawsuit alleges that the sensory deprivation of that confinement, 
especially for 500 men held in isolation more than a decade, causes 
irreparable psychological harm. The claims were also at the heart of 
three statewide prison hunger strikes, including a 60-day protest that 
ended last month when lawmakers pledged public hearings on the practice.

Only one hearing at the moment is planned, Oct. 9, in Sacramento, said 
staff for Assembly Public Safety Chairman Tom Ammiano 
(D-San Francisco).

Meanwhile, hunger strike leaders who had been moved during the protest 
have been returned to their old cells at Pelican Bay, said Anne Weills, 
one of the lawyers representing those prisoners. She met with them two 
weeks ago, and said several reported health problems related to their 
fasting, including cardiac trouble.

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