California Agrees to Move Thousands of Inmates Out of Solitary Confinement

© Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/MCT Javier Zubiate stands in the concrete recreation area allowing him periods of controlled and highly monitored exercise in one of the Secure Housing Units (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City…
© Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/MCT Javier Zubiate stands in the concrete recreation area allowing him periods of controlled and highly monitored exercise in one of the Secure Housing Units (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City…

Ending years of litigation, hunger strikes and contentious debate, California has agreed to move thousands of prison inmates out of solitary confinement.

A legal settlement announced Tuesday between the state and a core group of inmates held in isolation for a decade or more at Pelican Bay State Prison calls for the end of the use of solitary confinement to control prison gangs.

Instead, the state agreed to create small, high-security units that keep its most dangerous inmates in a group setting where they are entitled to many of the same privileges as other prisoners: contact visits, phone calls and educational and rehabilitation programs.

Corrections spokesman Jeffrey Callison said the state would be able to utilize space within existing prisons to relocate the inmates removed from solitary.

But the majority of the several thousand gang-associated prisoners who have been either kept in isolation a decade or more, or have gone at least two years without a major rule violation, are to be moved back to the general prison population.

Solitary confinement as it is run now, before the settlement, remains reserved for those who commit crimes while behind bars, with set sentences that can run no longer than five years, the maximum penalty for murder in prison, apart from criminal sentences imposed by a judge.

Lawyers for prisoners in the class-action case say the settlement sets the tone for similar changes elsewhere in the nation. “This is a dramatic step forward,” said Jules Lobel, lead attorney in the case and head of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The state prison guard union, which had unsuccessfully attempted to intervene in the case, was “concerned.”

“In our view California will return to the prison environment of the ’70s and ’80s when inmate-on-inmate homicides were at the highest levels and staff were killed,” Nichol Gomez-Pryde, spokeswoman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, said Monday in anticipation of the settlement.

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Source: Los Angeles Times | Paige St. John

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