California

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On Thursday, June 26, 2014 on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, advocates met with the California Department of Corrections (CDCR). Representatives of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) brought stories of families whose loved ones have been locked under the torture of solitary confinement - some of them for decades. News coverage is available here.

The clergy delegation delivered hundreds of prayers cards submitted by people from diverse faith traditions nationwide, to be distributed to incarcerated people who remain in long-term isolation. Faith leaders echoed the family members’ calls for an end to torture in California prisons, and included: Rev. Ron Stief, executive director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Rabbi David Cooper on behalf of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Basim Ekarra, executive director of the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Rev. Phillip Lawson, pastor emeritus, Easter Hill United Methodist Church, Richmond, California, Debbie McDermott, Associate Director for Restorative Justice at California Catholic Conference, and Laura Magnani, Program Director, Healing Justice, American Friends Service Committee San Francisco Office.

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Background:

Following three peaceful prisoner hunger strikes over the past several years in protest to conditions of torture in California prisons, legislators have taken notice, hosting a series of joint legislative hearings and introducing legislation to restrict the use of solitary confinement. Video coverage of the October 2013 joint legislative hearing available here.

Assembly Bill 1652 was designed to bring significant changes to California's use of solitary confinement. The bill passed its first hurdle by a 4 to 2 vote (with one abstention) in the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee recently. News coverage is available here. AB1652 would prohibit the use of solitary except for 14 very serious offenses, and would effectively end the bitterly contested practice of “gang validation” that has led to thousands of prisoners serving indefinite sentences in solitary based merely on association with other prisoners.

Senator Loni Hancock introduced legislation on March 17, 2014, that would reform the state's use of solitary confinement. Two highlights of the bill are that it would prohibit placing people with mental illness in solitary confinement and it would require the Office of Inspector General to conduct regular reviews of all individuals with indeterminate SHU terms.

In addition, in February 2014, SB 970 was introduced to limit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in California. NRCAT’s letter of support for SB 970 is available here.

The Backstory 

Hunger Strike: On Monday July 8, 2013, over 30,000 incarcerated people in California began their third peaceful hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions of their confinement in long-term isolation. On September 5, the hunger strike was suspended. See the press release from NRCAT. To learn more about the hunger strike go here. As a result of the historic hunger strike in California prisons this summer, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and State Senator Loni Hancock committed to host a series of hearings and legislation to address conditions of solitary confinement. 

The first of such hearings was held on Wednesday, October 9 in Sacramento. To view powerful excerpts from the hearing compiled by Lucas Guilkey and shared by the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, visit here. For the hearing in its entirety here, go to "Joint Informational Hearing on Segregation Policies in California Prisons" dated October 9, 2013.

The second of such hearings was held on Tuesday, February 11 in Sacramento.

Press Coverage
Links to news stories covering the use of solitary confinement in California and developments to confront its use are available here.

 
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