[Pnews] Court Finds Systematic Constitutional Violations by California Department of Corrections

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 29 10:16:49 EST 2019




    Extends Settlement to End Indefinite Solitary Confinement in California

/January 28, 2019, Eureka –/ Late Friday, a federal judge found that the 
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is 
systemically violating the due process rights of prisoners. The judge 
ruled that CDCR is violating the Constitution by repeatedly relying on 
unreliable and even fabricated confidential information to send 
California prisoners to solitary confinement. The court also found CDCR 
is using constitutionally flawed gang validations to deny people in 
prison a fair opportunity for parole.

As a result of evidence submitted by the prisoners’ legal team, the 
judge extended by one year the terms of an historic settlement agreement 
to end indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, including 
a provision allowing monitoring by plaintiffs’ counsel.

“The purpose of the settlement was to eradicate constitutional 
violations related to CDCR’s use of solitary confinement. Unfortunately, 
California is still violating our clients’ fundamental rights to due 
process. This ruling is an opportunity to remedy those continuing 
violations,” said Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional 
Rights Rachel Meeropol <https://ccrjustice.org/node/1731>. “It also 
sends a clear message to CDCR and California’s new governor: until the 
constitutional violations end, the courts will be watching.”

Under a 2015 landmark agreement, nearly 1600 prisoners were released 
from isolated Security Housing Units (SHU) and CDCR agreed to 
substantially reform the process by which prisoners were placed and held 
in the SHU. Prisoners are no longer sent to SHU based solely on gang 
affiliation—often established on the basis of extremely insubstantial 
evidence—but only due to specific and serious rules violations.

The judge’s decision underscored the serious problems in California’s 
old gang validation system and the way it continues to impact prisoners:

“Plaintiffs have provided the court with ample evidentiary examples that 
demonstrate that the CDCR’s old process for gang validation was 
constitutionally infirm (for example, because CDCR’s interpretation of 
the word ‘activity’ also included something described as, ‘non-action 
piece[s] of evidence’). As a result, prisoners’ validations were 
sometimes based on as little as . . . having received correspondence 
(regardless of the content) or artwork, a birthday card, or other 
possessions from a validated gang member . . .  or for the artwork they 
possessed (such as art containing Aztec or Mayan images). . . 
  Plaintiffs also provide evidence from a number of class members’ 
parole transcripts in support of the contention that gang validation is 
a highly significant, if not often a dispositive factor in parole 
consideration, and that when prisoners dispute their validation at their 
parole hearings, Commissioners consider the challenge itself to 
constitute evidence of dishonesty and a manifestation of a lack of 
remorse or credibility.”

“Now that a judge has determined that California’s gang validation 
system is deeply flawed, the Parole Board must immediately stop relying 
on these old validations and give our clients a fair chance to earn 
release,” said Carol Strickman of Legal Services for Prisoners with 

The judge’s decision also focused on how California distorts 
confidential information, describing one disciplinary case where “the 
potentially exculpatory part of the [confidential informant’s] account 
was never disclosed, and instead it appears to have been replaced by an 
inculpating statement that the [confidential informant] never uttered;” 
another case where a “prisoner was told that the evidence against him 
included two confidential sources . . .  however, according to the 
underlying confidential memorandum, there were not two sources, there 
was only one, and that person stated that he did not witness the event 
in question;” and many more, leading the judge to conclude that “time 
and again, the shield of confidentiality for informants and their 
confidential accounts is used to effectively deny class members any 
meaningful opportunity to participate in their disciplinary hearings.”

Lead counsel at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jules Lobel, 
explained, “CDCR relies extensively on confidential in-custody 
informants, even though the California legislature and experts around 
the country recognize they are often unreliable. We hope this decision 
will provide momentum for California and other state prison systems to 
take steps to ensure that this type of unreliable evidence is not used 
to send people in prison to solitary confinement.

/Ashker v. Governor of California / 
originally filed by prisoners who had been isolated in the SHU for more 
than a decade based on alleged gang affiliation. The lawsuit followed 
coordinated hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 by over 30,000 prisoners 
statewide. On the third anniversary of the settlement agreement, former 
SHU prisoners published a statement 
marking their progress and highlighting work that remains in order to 
fully remedy their unconstitutional conditions.

The /Ashker /plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Constitutional 
Rights, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison 
Focus, Siegel & Yee, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Bremer Law Group^PLLC 
, Ellenberg & Hull, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone.

Read the magistrate judge’s decision here 
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case 
page <https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/our-cases/ashker-v-brown>.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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