[Pnews] Lawsuit Settled on Long-term Solitary Confinement for Alleged Gang Affiliation in San Quentin AC

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 16 10:59:11 EDT 2017

*California Death Row - Solitary Confinement, **class action lawsuit 
**/Lopez v Brown/**is settled
Listen to this interview on UpFront - KPFA 3.15.17
*Cat Brooks talks to *Azadeh Zohrabi and Dan Siegel* about solitary 
confinement. Azadeh Zohrabi*, *is a national campaigner from the Ella 
Baker Center for Human Rights*-* Dan Siegel, *is an***attorney with 
Siegel & Yee.

**Listen HERE* 

Copy of original complaint in Lopez v Brown*6/17/2015


  In California Death Row's "Adjustment Center," Condemned Men Wait in
  Solitary Confinement

    By Alyssa Stryker <http://solitarywatch.com/author/alyssa-stryker/>
    - April 13, 2016

“When we were sentenced to death,” wrote Carlos M. Argueta 
from death row in California, “we weren’t sentenced to be mistreated, 
humiliated, discriminated against, psychologically tortured and kept in 
solitary dungeons until the day of our executions. Never once did the 
judge say that was to be part of our sentence.” He was speaking about 
life in San Quentin State Prison’s Adjustment Center, a “prison within a 
with a name worthy of any fictional dystopia.

The Adjustment Center is at the epicenter of California’s death row 
system, which /The/ /Atlantic/ recently called 
“simultaneously the most and least prolific wielder of the death 
penalty.” Although the state continually metes out death sentences — 
there were 749 people 
awaiting execution last July 
nearly twice as many as the next highest state — almost no one is 
executed. California held just six executions since the start of the 
21^st century, and none since 2006 
<http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/node/6300>. In March of this year, /The 
LA Times/ reported that death row at San Quentin — home to all men on 
death row in California — has literally run out of room 

The Adjustment Center, the harshest of the three death row units at San 
Quentin, is severe even compared to 
other segregation units in the California prison system and death row 
units in most other states. And California’s long death row delays mean 
these exceptionally harsh conditions can last for decades.

The average time <http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cp13st.pdf> spent 
on death row in California was 16.1 years in 2013, and by the end of 
2014, nearly 78 
percent of the male death row population had been there for ten years or 
longer. Citing excessive delays 
in 2008 the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice 
declared the state’s death penalty system “dysfunctional.”

And in a 2014 decision that found the system unconstitutional (the 
decision was overturned 
on procedural grounds in November), federal judge Cormac J. Carney 
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1219798-carney-order.html> that 
in California, “the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by 
the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or 
legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote 
possibility of death.”

A class action lawsuit 
filed in June 2015, /Lopez v Brown/, offers a rare glimpse into the 
daily lives of the people who live in the Adjustment Center. Its six 
named plaintiffs – Bobby Lopez, Marco Topete, John Myles, Richardo 
Roldan, John Gonzales, and Ronaldo Medrano Ayala – allege their 
continued detention in the Adjustment Center violates the Eighth 
Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the due 
process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. These men have been in the 
Adjustment Center for periods of time ranging from three to 26 years. 
Some received just one disciplinary write-up that affected their 
classification during that entire period, for participating in a 
peaceful hunger strike.

These men and their fellow Adjustment Center residents spend between 21 
and 24 hours a day — often for years on end — inside cells roughly six 
by nine feet, smaller than a standard parking spot. There is no natural 
light or airflow; temperatures in the cells fluctuate from very hot to 
very cold. Beds consist of a thin mattress on a steel or concrete slab. 
There are no chairs or desks in the cells.

According to the complaint 
“When writing letters to loved ones, Roldan kneels on his shower shoes 
and uses his bunk as a table. Ayala fashions a seat out of the banker’s 
boxes where he keeps his property. Gonzales and Topete sit on a blanket 
on the floor of their cells and write on their beds. For Topete, who has 
chronic back pain, sitting in that position becomes excruciating after 
15 minutes. As a result, he can only write and research in brief 

Those living in the Adjustment Center are continually immersed in noise 
The slamming of security gates and cell doors echo through the unit, 
exacerbated by high ceilings and enclosed steel cells. Residents are 
constantly shouting, banging, or screaming, either in desperate attempts 
to communicate with one another or as a primal response to their 
unbearable conditions. The racket continues around the clock: chronic 
sleep deprivation is one of many severe mental and physical health 
effects of long-term confinement in the Adjustment Center.

Access to healthcare of any kind is extremely limited, and in many 
circumstances nonexistent. When an Adjustment Center resident requests a 
medical appointment, it can take so long to materialize that in a letter 
to Solitary Watch, one resident quipped, “By the time you see a doctor 
your 24-flu has passed or you’re about to pass.”

Mental health assessments, when they occur at all, are often conducted 
through a cell door within earshot of guards and other residents. As 
sensitive health information can easily be used against them by guards 
and other prisoners, it i­s impossible for Adjustment Center residents 
to be honest about their mental health, and therefore impossible to 
receive appropriate treatment.

The same man quoted above commented, “I don’t know the extent of my own 
mental damage but I do know more people have died on death row at San 
Quentin from suicide than execution.” Indeed, suicide rates 
on death row are roughly ten times greater than in society more broadly, 
and several times greater than in the general prison population.

California is one of the few states 
that keep people in segregation for alleged gang affiliation, divorced 
from any assessment of their actual behavior within prison. As a result, 
an individual who has never violated a prison rule can end up in the 
Adjustment Center for suspicion of current or former gang involvement. 
There is no process for reviewing alleged affiliation, and individuals 
can be held in the Adjustment Center for years on the flimsiest 
evidence. Some individuals are assumed to have gang allegiances simply 
because of their ethnicity or the region where they grew up.

Adjustment Center residents are entitled to a review of their placement 
every 90 days, but this rarely results in a transfer to East Block or 
North Segregation, San Quentin’s other death row units. With no ability 
to disprove gang affiliations that were never proven in the first place, 
continued detention is almost a certainty.

Other residents were placed in the Adjustment Center for disciplinary 
infractions committed while in one of the other death row units. For 
these men as well, it is very challenging to get transferred out, even 
after long periods of violation-free behavior.

Adjustment Center residents are not allowed to engage in any 
educational, recreational, or vocational programming. They may leave 
their cells for just five reasons 

  * Yard visits, at most three times per week for three hours each
  * Showers, at most three times per week
  * Medical visits
  * Rare opportunities for visitors, which occur behind a dirty
    Plexiglas window through a poor quality two-way intercom
  * Visits to the law library, which can take several months to secure

Before and after any movement within the unit, men are routinely strip 
often in front of other Adjustment Center residents and guards, even if 
they have not come into contact with anyone else during their time out 
of cell.

While in the yard, residents have access to small open yards or 
walk-alone cages (roughly twice as big as a cell), along with a few 
handballs and the occasional pull-up bar. Although yard time is a rare 
opportunity for Adjustment Center residents to interact with others, 
prisoners report that any interaction may be perceived by the guards as 
“gang activity” and used to justify keeping them in the Adjustment 
Center — so some residents choose not 
to interact.

In a letter to Solitary Watch, one Adjustment Center resident lamented 
the seeming interminability of the status quo: “What is happening today 
and tomorrow in solitary confinement is the same stuff which has taken 
place ten and fifteen plus years ago.

“In fact you will be able to find the same prisoners there in continuous 
solitary placement, subjected to the same inhumane conditions.”

Adjustment Center residents — despite extremely restrictive conditions — 
joined prisoners statewide in peaceful hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013. 
Not only did the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation 
(CDCR) ignore the strikers’ reasonable demands 
— access to recreation activities, increased ability to communicate with 
their families, meaningful review of their detention in the Adjustment 
Center — officials considered participation in the strike a disciplinary 
offense and used it to justify keeping participants in the Adjustment 

In a letter to Solitary Watch, one Adjustment Center resident expressed 
unwillingness to discuss other forms of non-violent activism for the 
same reason: peaceful acts of protest, he said, are “re-interpreted as a 
threat to security” and “written into the local rules to make 
non-violent acts of resistance [into] a ‘rule violation.’”

The strikes did, however, succeed in bringing attention to conditions in 
California’s prison system and exposing some cracks in its system of 
long-term solitary confinement. Over the past few years, several 
lawsuits have challenged the state’s use of solitary confinement on and 
off death row, including /Lopez v. Brown/.

EmilyRose Johns, working on the /Lopez /case with the law firm Siegel & 
Yee, told Solitary Watch they are at a very early stage of settlement 
talks with CDCR. She noted that these talks are taking place “in the 
shadow of /Ashker v. Brown/,” a related case that settled with CDCR in 
September. Although the /Ashker/ settlement has no direct effect on 
Adjustment Center residents, it has significant implications for 
litigation and policy work to reform conditions on California’s death row.

/Ashker /was a class action lawsuit filed by the Center for 
Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of those who have spent a decade 
or more in solitary confinement in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at 
California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. Like /Lopez/, /Ashker /argued 
<https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/our-cases/ashker-v-brown> that 
long term segregation violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against 
cruel and unusual punishment, and that the lack of meaningful review of 
SHU placement violates the right to due process. The Adjustment Center 
is not technically covered by the lawsuit — it is not specifically 
as a SHU — but the conditions challenged in /Ashker/ are extremely 
similar to those of the Adjustment Center, including the 
non-evidence-based criteria for ascertaining gang affiliation.

The /Ashker/ settlement 
will transform the “status-based” system for placing people in SHUs to a 
“behavior-based” system. Individuals will only be put in the SHU if they 
have committed verified “SHU-eligible” rule violations, such as 
violence, weapons possession, or escape attempts — not merely for 
alleged gang affiliation.

The settlement also significantly limits the time individuals may spend 
in solitary confinement. CCR noted that in settling /Ashker/ 
“California has implicitly recognized the harm to prisoners from very 
prolonged solitary confinement.” CCR lawyer Alexis Agathocleous, 
speaking to Solitary Watch, noted that CDCR has “acknowledged that other 
options are possible” for managing behavior in prison, besides long-term 
segregation. Those working on /Lopez/ will look to the /Ashker 
/settlement for an understanding of what CDCR may be willing to put on 
the table.

EmilyRose Johns noted, however, that there are obstacles to negotiating 
a settlement for those on death row that /Ashker/ didn’t have to grapple 
with, including different regulatory context and an even greater stigma. 
Settlement discussions could continue for months or even years; if 
discussions break down and the case goes to trial, it will almost 
certainly be years before a judgment arrives. Meanwhile, life – such as 
it is – will go on for the men who live in the Adjustment Center. With 
executions apparently stalled indefinitely, the severe living conditions 
of individuals on death row, ostensibly temporary, are seemingly more 
and more permanent.

For the named plaintiffs in /Lopez/, however, things will be a bit 
different. As a result of the lawsuit, Johns noted, they have all been 
transferred out of the Adjustment Center and into slightly less 
stringent conditions in East Block. Their executions continue to be 
nowhere in sight.

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