By Michael Apfel and Belen Avelar
SACRAMENTO, CA – Like-minded advocacy and nonprofit organizations have joined together to form the California Mandela Campaign to end solitary confinement in California and support the passing of AB 280, the California Mandela Act.
The coalition said the California Mandela Act limits solitary confinement in California prisons and jails, banning the use of solitary confinement against pregnant people, individuals with certain disabilities, and individuals under 26 and over 59. It’s the first bill of its kind to also apply to private immigration detention facilities.
The campaign joined CA State Assembly member Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) in a press conference this week to address support for the bill, and urging the need for continued support for future comprehensive legislation tackling the issue.
Holden, who represents California’s 41st District, said, “Solitary confinement is truly torture. The evidence shows and the international consensus is that solitary confinement does irreversible physical, mental and emotional damage to people.”
For years, advocacy groups like the ACLU have emphasized the negative impacts of solitary confinement for years, citing human rights objections as well as economic concerns.
“Long-term isolation costs too much, does nothing to rehabilitate prisoners, and exacerbates mental illness—or even causes it in prisoners who were healthy when they entered solitary,” said the ACLU in a 2017 article outlining its objections to the practice.
“Officials in some states that formerly relied heavily on solitary confinement are now realizing that they should use public resources on proven policies that promote safe communities and fair treatment, and are successfully reducing the use of solitary—at the same time saving their states millions and reducing violence in the prisons,” added the ACLU.
Dolores Canales, a solitary survivor and co-founder of California Families Against Solitary Confinement, voiced strong opposition, and echoed the ACLU’s human rights concerns.
“Solitary confinement was torture last year, it is torture today and will always be torture,” Canales said. “We will not stop fighting until this practice ends in California and everywhere.”
Canales has previously spoken about her personal experience with solitary confinement, in her 20 years in prison.
Since her release, she has worked to end solitary confinement in Orange County jails, where incarcerated people spend up to 23 hours a day in isolation according to Daisy Ramirez, Orange County jails conditions and policy coordinator at the ACLU.
The campaign coalition includes California Families Against Solitary, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, Disability Rights California, Immigrant Defense Advocates, NextGen California, Prison Law Office, and Underground Scholars Initiative, UC Berkeley, as well as other supporting organizations and sponsors.