After California Prisons Release “Gang Affiliates” From Solitary Confinement, Costs and Violence Levels Drop

Significant reductions in California’s use of solitary confinement in state prisons are expected to save the state millions of dollars, perhaps even more if state lawmakers heed the advice of the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). Contrary to warnings by Governor Jerry Brown and others, the reductions in isolation also appear to be coinciding with a measurable reduction in violence in California’s prisons. With the state prison system’s use of segregation units down by … [Read more...]

The End of Solitary Confinement

What is California going to do with "the worst of the worst"? Standing in the warden's office at Pelican Bay, the notorious maximum security prison in Crescent City, California, I don my dark green stab-proof vest and accompany public information officer Lieutenant Christopher Acosta and Associate Warden Rawland Swift (who has since retired) to the Security Housing Unit, or SHU. Acosta is curt and bulldoggish, with a smooth, bald head. Swift is affable and mustachioed, wearing a casual … [Read more...]

California Agrees to Overhaul Use of Solitary Confinement

California has agreed to an overhaul of the use of solitary confinement in its prisons, including strict limits on the prolonged isolation of inmates, as part of a landmark legal settlement filed in federal court on Tuesday. The settlement is expected to sharply reduce the number of inmates held in the state’s isolation units, where nearly 3,000 inmates are often kept alone for more than 22 hours a day in cells that sometimes have no windows, and cap the length of time prisoners can spend … [Read more...]

Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life

In 1993, Craig Haney, a social psychologist, interviewed a group of inmates in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s toughest penal institution. He was studying the psychological effects of isolation on prisoners, and Pelican Bay was among the first of a new breed of super-maximum-security prisons that states around the country were beginning to build. Twenty years later, he returned to Pelican Bay for another set of interviews. He was startled to find himself facing … [Read more...]

Pelican Bay Prisoners Suspend Historic Hunger Strike After 59 Days

After 59 days on hunger strike, prisoners at Pelican Bay have suspended their peaceful protest. Representatives of the Short CorridorCollective at Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit issued a statement this morning: In response to much sincere urging of loved ones, supporters, our attorneys and current and former state legislators, Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock, and Tom Hayden, for whom we have the upmost respect, we decided to suspend our hunger strike. Read the complete Statement … [Read more...]

My Friend Todd Ashker

Todd Ashker is on hunger strike in Pelican Bay. California authorities call him “gang leader” and “terrorist.” I want to say something few people want to hear. Todd Ashker is my friend. I know him as a thoughtful human being who has dedicated his life to peaceful change, to helping his fellow prisoners by learning the law and sharing his knowledge. He was not that way thirty years ago when he first went to prison. He admits that. But any brain scientist will tell you that no man in his … [Read more...]

Torture By Design: Saying No to the Architecture of Solitary Confinement and Cruelty

An Interview with Raphael Sperry Friday, August 16 marked the 40th consecutive day of a multi-ethnic statewide prisoner hunger strike initiated from inside the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of California's Pelican Bay State Prison. When the strike first began on July 8, the 'California Department of Corrections and Reform' (CDCR) reported 30,000 participants statewide, which the Los Angeles Times wrote "could be the largest prison protest in state history." This week, as the striking … [Read more...]

How to End California’s Prison Hunger Strike

At least 300 inmates are now several weeks into a fast that could soon lead to organ failure and death for many of them. Events are moving rapidly, but as I write, nothing has been resolved. And, as California corrections chief Jeffrey Beard made clear recently in an LA Times Op-Ed, the sides are far apart. Beard, presumably reflecting Gov. Jerry Brown's views, paints the strike leaders as dangerous gang leaders who are pressuring inmates into a hunger strike to "restore their ability to … [Read more...]

Light a Candle to Dispel the Darkness of Solitary Confinement

Almost two years have passed since the summer, 2011 hunger strikes initiated by men in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison. The peaceful hunger strikes (eventually joined by up to 12,000 prisoners in the state) were geared at the realization of five core demands all of which the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s top administrators admitted were reasonable at the time! Two years later, key demands have yet to be met!! Unless Governor Jerry Brown and the … [Read more...]