Under UN Standards, Some ‘Solitary Confinement’ in California Prisons is ‘Torture’

By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA –  The United Nations Standard defines solitary confinement as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact,” and under current California state prison rule—the state claims the incarcerated can get just 10 hours a week (or 22.5 hours a day) outside their cell—it’s “torture” if it lasts 15 days or more, the UN argues.

But, California prison officials maintain the state does not have solitary confinement, even though justice reform advocates charge those in state prison can—for years—remain isolated more than 22 hours a day.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation calls it “restricting housing” and previously called it “segregated confinement” or “secure housing,” a Sacramento Bee story notes, but advocates said the practice—whatever it’s called—needs major reform.

“I think (CDCR) would like to continue to essentially operate in a world where there is no clear definition of solitary confinement or pretend that it doesn’t exist. But it does exist,” said Hamid Yazdan Panah, advocacy director for Immigrant Defense Advocates, in a Bee story recently. 

Advocates suggest it’s a “tomatoe, tomato” kind of thing.

A bill to modify the restricted or solitary confinement—AB 280—was held in the Assembly this year, making it a two-year bill waiting for reforms from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who vetoed a similar bill earlier.

Advocates and supportive lawmakers said they are, however, upset when the Newsom administration announced emergency changes that were not satisfactory, the Bee said.

“The new rules (starting Nov. 1) would give inmates a minimum 20 hours of outside-cell time per week, would narrow the offenses that lead to solitary and would halve the amount of isolation time for those facing disciplinary measures… (and) allow inmates in solitary to earn credits that would cut down their isolation period and add some rehabilitative programming,” wrote the Bee.  

Current CDCR rules give isolated inmates at least 10 hours of outside-cell time per week, meaning most remain in their cells for more than 20 hours per day, said the Bee.

But, Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), author of AB 280, still wants more limits to the state’s solitary confinement, defining it as incarcerated kept in cells more than 17 hours per day.

Assembly Bill 280 includes inmates housed with other people, as the criteria is based on “time spent in a cell and contact with persons other (than) custodial staff.”

Writing about the measure, the Sacramento Bee said, “Holden’s measure would limit solitary confinement in most cases to 15 consecutive days in prisons, jails and private and immigration detention facilities. It would ban the practice for inmates who are pregnant, 25 or younger, 60 or older or who have mental or physical disabilities.”

AB 280 would also give incarcerated at least six hours per day of “daily out-of-cell congregate programming” and one hour of group recreation.

Panah said AB 280 would create a definition and a framework for the practice, because “there is no singular definition of solitary confinement in the state of California.”  

Opposition charges Holden’s bill “limiting solitary confinement would risk the safety of prison staff and other inmates, as the measure would make it significantly more challenging to separate those who threaten themselves or others,” said the Bee.

The Bee also writes, “California prisons have long isolated inmates in separate housing units that significantly limit their contact with other people. Prisoners can live in these cells for years, and they frequently remain in cage-like settings even when they are allowed out for exercise, therapy or other programming.

“Prisoners can be placed in solitary confinement for a variety of reasons, including disciplinary action, posing a threat to others and a need to be separated from other inmates for their own protection. There is no current limit on how long someone can remain in solitary confinement, and some inmates have stayed in isolation for decades.”

“CDCR offers a behavior-based housing model that focuses on providing the most programming opportunities for incarcerated people in the least restrictive setting, while still maintaining safety and security of institutions,” the agency continues.

CDCR spokeswoman Terri Hardy told the Bee there are “rules allowing isolated inmates non-contact visits, mail, phone calls and limited outside cell time. Some prisoners in this setting also get roommates.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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