Bill to reform California's near-solitary prison units dies

SACRAMENTO Calif. Fri Aug 29, 2014 9:18pm EDT

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SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - A bill aimed at easing some conditions for inmates in near-solitary confinement in California prisons has died in the state legislature amid concerns that Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who has held a tough line on prison issues, would veto it.

The measure to allow inmates in the state's Security Housing Units to keep photographs and make a phone call after three months of good behavior was listed as inactive on Friday after a decision on Thursday evening by state Senator Loni Hancock to drop it, a spokesman said.

"I became convinced that to get a bill signed into law would require further weakening it to a point where it could no longer accomplish it goals," Hancock said. 

California has drawn criticism from human rights organizations for its use of prolonged, indeterminate sentencing in its security housing units, which keep some inmates by themselves for nearly 23 hours a day.

Last year, Brown's administration implemented new regulations aimed at helping inmates work their way out of the units, where prisoners believed to be members of prison gangs have been held indefinitely, some for decades.

In the summer of 2013, inmates protested the indefinite detention in the units by starting a hunger strike in July that lasted two months and at its peak attracted 30,000 prisoners.

The state currently holds 3,400 inmates in the units, a spokeswoman said.

California is already struggling with other issues in its 34-prison system, including compliance with an order by a panel of federal judges to reduce severe overcrowding.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Mendelson; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Comments (1)
PeterSchey wrote:
This article gets several issues wrong. The Hancock bill that died Friday in the California Assembly would have made minor improvements in the treatment of California prisoners in solitary confinement but was opposed by prisoners, their families, and over 130 organizations and community leaders and advocates because for the first time in history it would have adopted into state law a universally condemned policy of the CA Dept of Corrections of placing prisoners in long-term solitary confinement based on mere alleged gang membership or affiliation with NO accompanying wrongdoing or rules violations. This is a highly unusual policy not followed by the vast majority of states or the federal Bureau of Prisons. Furthermore, the “matrix” used by the Dept of Corrections to decide if a prisoner is an alleged gang member, which would have been adopted into state law, is absurd. Prisoners who are not and have never been gang members can easily be found to be gang members under the “matrix” which uses old tatoos, old photographs, old associations, etc. to determine current alleged membership. Second, the article uses the term “near solitary” confinement. Being locked up 23 hours a day in a cell the size of a large closet with no telephone calls, rare family visits, virtually no human contact, etc. is not “near solitary,” unles syou want to define solitary confinement as being locked in a coffin. third, we understand the Governor and his Dept of Corrections basically drafted the proposed bill, or had a strong hand in its drafting. It was written by a lawyer who worked for the Dept of Corrections until going to work for Senator Hancock. We believe the the bill was killed not because of the slightest opposition by the Gov or his Department of Corrections, but because of the enormous opposition to the bill expressed by the families of prisoners through their organization California Families Against Solitary Confinement, and over 130 black, Latino, civil rights, faith-based and human rights groups.

Aug 30, 2014 10:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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