FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
October 18, 2013
CONTACT: Samantha Friedman, West End Strategy Team
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Speaks on Los Angeles Panel on Solitary Confinement in response to historic prisoner hunger strike
Solitary confinement in California prisons, at national level, addressed
LOS ANGELES – As a result of the historic hunger strike in California prisons this summer, a series of state legislative hearings addressing conditions of solitary confinement in California is now underway. In the midst of these hearings, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture joined four other organizations to sponsor a panel today in Los Angeles, that included remarks from Juan Mendez, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, on solitary confinement locally and nationally. Family members of prisoners in solitary confinement active in California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC) will speak, as well as representatives from the faith community. The panel was held at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.
California holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other state. Last year, more than 300 prisoners submitted a petition to Mendez, alleging that their conditions of confinement violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture. In response, Mendez has requested that the U.S. State Department authorize him to visit prisons in California. That request remains pending.
Mendez agreed to today’s meeting with California prisoners’ family members and advocates to learn more about solitary confinement in California in response to this summer’s historic hunger strike, in which more than 30,000 California inmates protested the inhumane conditions of their confinement. At least 100 prisoners remained on strike for 60 days. Mendez is expected to share his views on how solitary confinement may violate the international human rights obligations of the United States. The hearings at the state level are being convened in response to the hunger strike as well, and more information on the upcoming hearings can be provided upon request.
Today’s panel included:
- Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
- Tino Aguilar, who spent 17 years in Pelican Bay State Prison SHU
- Irene Huerta, of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC), whose husband has been in SHU for 28 years
- Dolores Canales, of CFASC, mother of current SHU prisoner
- Bertha Nava, of CFASC, mother of current SHU prisoner
- Daletha Haydend, of CFASC, mother of current SHU prisoner
- Rabbi Jonathan Klein, Executive Director, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Los Angeles
- Edina Lekovic, Director of Policy and Programming, Muslim Public Affairs Council
- Rev. Jerry Stinson, Minister, United Church of Christ
- California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC)
- Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law
- National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT)
- Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
- Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP)
“The religious community is grateful for the attention of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez on this critical human rights issue,” said Laura Markle Downton, director of U.S. prisons policy and program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. “Though Mr. Mendez has stated that more than 15 days in solitary confinement constitutes torture, in the state of California, inmates spend years, even decades, in solitary confinement in the SHU (security housing units).
“This is morally indefensible and antithetical to rehabilitation. The brave witness of those who participated in the historic prisoner hunger strike this summer is a wake-up call for state legislators and the public at large that we cannot return to business as usual. As people of faith, we urge California leadership to commit to swift legislative action to bring an end to torture.”
More information about the hunger strike and the religious community’s response is available at NRCAT’S website. In California, nearly 12,000 inmates are currently held in solitary confinement for 23 to 24 hours a day in small, windowless cells without sunlight, fresh air, meaningful human contact or constructive activity, often for years and even decades.
In late July, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement together delivered a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, signed by more than 1,000 clergy and religious leaders from across the country, as well as petitions from partnering groups, asking California officials to meet the core demands of prisoners in secure housing units and to resolve the hunger strike swiftly.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, more than 325 religious organizations have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and local congregations. More information is available at www.nrcat.org.