TRANSCRIPT (FULL) JOINT LEGISLATIVE INFORMATIONAL HEARING ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
CALIFORNIA, OCT. 9, 2013 CO-CHAIRED BY SEN. LONI HANCOCK, ASSEMBLYMAN TOM AMMIANO
Housing in CA’s Prisons Today: Describing the Physical & Programming Conditions of Segregated Confinement, California State Legislature
SENATOR LONI HANCOCK: Thank you all for being here as a part of that discussion as it opens.
ASSEMBLYLMAN TOM AMMIANO: I want to thank the Senator because she’s been terrifically focused on this issue and knows how complicated it is and how frustrating it can be. This is I think the third hearing we’re gonna have on the SHU, and its management processes and I know the Senator previous before I had got to the Assembly had visited Pelican Bay, and earlier this year in February. I hope through these hearings we can find a common ground among the stakeholders to implement, you know, whatever policy changes may be necessary. You know, I’m older. I don’t want lip service, you know. I want real testimony from those who are the most concerned and, if necessary, I want legislation from these hearings.
I’m not particularly thrilled with the process of solitary confinement. I’d like to hear what CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] has to say in regard to the justification for it. I know that sometimes, in fairness, they’re between a rock and a hard place. However, you know, many, many of the situations that have been described to the Senator and I are beyond the pale, of people being in the SHU for 25 and 30 years.
The hearings that we have previously resulted in what I thought were some cosmetic changes, not changes that have the kind of depth and substance that we’re seeking. So, you know, spare us today. Tell us the truth even if it’s not pleasant because maybe working together we can come up with a solution to what I think has been a very, very aberrant policy attitude on the part of the CDCR. I’m not saying everybody there is a bad person or any of that, but there’s real people and real families and are we really doing the right thing?
So today, we’ll hear from the Inspector General, who is charged with overseeing the state correctional system, and from representatives from CDCR who will provide us with the physical description of the conditions of segregating confinement. Next, we’ll hear from the academic speakers, including the Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. And finally, we’ll hear from a former inmate of the SHU at Corcoran and Pelican Bay state prisons. And then we will be able to take some public comment. And we know that we do have a line of communication, as member of both houses, with the Governor and we want to translate what happens today to the Governor and the Governor’s staff.
Both of us, in general, have been very supportive of the realignment issues. But of course, rehabilitation, I think, is one of the top issues for us. There will be, as I mentioned, a select committee meeting in the future of the Assembly in regard to prison overcrowding, and I hope many of you who have expressed interests in this hearing will continue that interest by attending some of those select committee meetings.
So with that, first on our agenda is (panel) Robert A. Barton, Inspector General; Michael Stainer, Director Division of Adult Institutions; and Kelly Harrington, Deputy Director, Division of Adult Institutions. (4m) If you would be so kind as to take a seat, and we’d be very, very willing to hear from your points of views, and perhaps some solutions we could all work with and perhaps legislation that may come out of these hearings.
ROBERT BARTON, OIG, Inspector General:
Good afternoon. My name is Robert Barton. I am the Inspector General for the state of California with oversight of CDCR. By way of an introduction, I have been a member of the Inspector General’s office since 2005, originally in a supervisory role in Central California, which included two of the prisons we’re going to be speaking about today Tehachapi and Corcoran – I am very familiar with having visited probably close to 20 or 30 times each of those prisons. I was appointed in 2011 as the Inspector General and for the last two years have run the office with about 100 employees statewide in three offices – one in Southern California, one in Central California, and one here in Sacramento. And we are in the prisons every day – our staff – monitoring various processes within Corrections. I personally have visited every prison in the state, most on multiple occasions, including the four that we’re talking about today that have security housing units – that being specifically Pelican Bay, California State Prison in Sacramento [New Folsom], California State Prison in Corcoran, and California State Prison in Tehachapi.
My office is independent of the CDCR. We intake and process approximately 250 to 300 complaints each month regarding CDCR as a whole. Some of those do come from SHU inmates and we follow up on those complaints. We are statutorily mandated to monitor and oversee the rehabilitative efforts of CDCR, so this issue is one of paramount interest to our agency in that role. And we also oversee their internal affairs, their medical care, sexual abuse complaints, use of force, critical incidents, retaliation claims, warden selection, and the department’s adherence to their own strategic plan. We are available to review any policy or practice of the CDCR upon request of the legislature or the Governor, and I was asked to provide you with some statistics and facts regarding the current state of secure housing units within California.
So first, as a matter of semantic clarification, so we all understand what I’m referencing, the California Code of Regulations Title 15 Article 7 that defines security housing units does so in a broader scope labeled “segregated housing.” Sometimes those terms are used interchangeably, mistakenly. In actuality, segregated housing is a broader context that includes, for example, administrative segregation units that each prison has, which is a shorter term of confinement. It also includes, for example, the condemned housing in San Quentin and protective housing units for those inmates who are not being disciplined or have any gang validations but for their own safety cannot mix with other inmates.
AMMIANO: If I may jump in …Administrative could be used for – for instance – transgendered prisoners?
BARTON: Administrative segregation? It depends on what purpose they have to put them in there. But I think you’re probably thinking in terms of protective housing units if for their own protection they needed to.
AMMIANO: Well, that as well but also the anecdotal is that transgendered inmates often are put in administrative segregation as a first step, and just checking that out.
BARTON: And while I have, in fact, seen transgendered inmates in administrative segregation, typically there are other issues at play – either they’re in danger or there’s been some other reason for their classification to be in question.
AMMIANO: Do we have transgendered guards?
BARTON: Yes, CMC does.
AMMIANO: You do? Okay.
BARTON: Well, I’m not CDCR so some of these questions I’ll defer to those from CDCR. But I have visited yards specifically at California Men’s Colony that does.
AMMIANO: No, I don’t mean yards. Guards.
BARTON: Oh, I’m sorry. I though I heard yards. [Overlapping audio] I have no idea in terms of prison officers what the … [talked over]
AMMIANO: It might be helpful.
BARTON: Okay. The segregated housing, as I said, what we’re talking about today is a sub-category of that, specifically security housing unit – SHUs…And I would include within that the psychiatric service units or PSUs, which is a smaller subset of inmates that otherwise would be in security housing except they require and have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders so they receive enhanced outpatient program level of mental health care, often referred to as EOP. And they have living units that have services provided to them by the mental health staff of CDCR. And I’ll give you the actual breakdowns in numbers.
So here’s a snapshot of what I consider to be the security housing units themselves. First of all, there are the four located in Tehachapi, Corcoran, Pelican Bay, and Sacramento. Two of these – Sacramento and Pelican Bay – also have smaller psychiatric service units.
What the general public might not realize is that each of these four prisons also house other inmate populations in other parts of the institutions, including minimum, small and maximum general population inmates, as well as sensitive needs inmates. So if you think about a common prison having about 4,000 to 5,000 inmates, each SHU population is roughly about 1,000 or so. So it really is about a quarter, typically, of the overall population of that whole prison, unlike some in other jurisdictions where a true supermax is devoted specifically to those persons on lockdown.
Currently, as of the beginning of October  – and again, these numbers change on a weekly basis but not drastically – there are approximately 4,054 inmates currently in security housing units in California. 4,054. Of that, 327 are in PSUs or psychiatric service units.
The breakdown is as follows: There are 1,248 at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi SHU. There are 1,213 at the Corcoran SHU.
1,179 in the Pelican Bay SHU. And 87 in the CSP Sacramento SHU. And as I said, Pelican Bay and Sacramento both have psychiatric units. So at Pelican Bay, there are currently 97 inmates in their psychiatric units. And in CSP Sacramento, there are 230.
AMMIANO: Do they have designated staff ratios?
BARTON: According to their blueprint, they are following their standardized staff ratios, yes.
AMMIANO: So that would apply to each of the prisons?
AMMIANO: It would be a uniformed ratio?
BARTON: Correct. And the other thing that I wanted to bring up because it was a question that I know the committee had on their minds in terms of how many of these inmates are double-celled, because we tend to think of secure housing unit as single-celled, and while that’s true for many of them, there – approximately half of them – half of the 4,054 – the actual number is 1,998 are doubled celled. So that breaks down to 948 in Tehachapi have a cell mate; 746 in Corcoran have a cell mate; 264 in Pelican Bay have a cell mate; and then 40 out of the 87 in Sacramento have a cell mate. So there are some of these people in secure housing units – some of these that do have cell mates.
Let me also add because I would be remised [sic] if I didn’t – we don’t tend to include them in the conversation – I think we should – and that is the 74 women serving SHU terms at the California Institution for Women currently. And there are also a handful that are awaiting transfer from CCWF. So there is a secure housing unit designed for women at CIW as well. So let me talk to you about …
ASSEMBLYWOMAN NANCY SKINNER (D-Berkeley): Of the women, how many are – you mentioned before a number of psychiatric in for the men. So if that 74 SHU women – would you qualify any of them…?
BARTON: They don’t have a separate standalone psychiatric secure unit that I’m aware of that I’ve personally visited or seen. Then again, I may be wrong.
MICHAEL STAINER, ACTING DIRECTOR OF CDCR, DIVISION OF ADULT INSTITUTIONS:
Good afternoon, I’m Mike Stainer. I’m the Acting Director for the Division of Adult Institutions. With regard to the female SHU population, we do not segregate or separate their EOP or CCCMS population from the non-mentally ill inmates, but we do provide all the services with regard to their level of care within the SHU.
SKINNER: And are these women with roommate or solitary?
BARTON: Again, it’s mixed. I wasn’t provided with that specific category. Typically, the department for space reasons tries to double-cell whenever they can. But there are some people they’re not able to for one reason or another. So that number I don’t have the specifics on how many of them are double-celled. If I were to hazard to guess, I would say that it’s probably about the same ratio, you would have some that are and some that aren’t out ,of the 74.
AMMIANO: Excuse me, as long as we have this interruption, we will get to Mr. Stainer and Mr. Harrington, I would like to explore the transgender issue a bit, but I wanted to acknowledge some of my colleagues. You’ve heard from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner; Sen. Joel Anderson, as well as Assemblymember Ken Cooley. So now that I’ve taken care of those formalities, please continue.
BARTON: Thank you. Let me talk to you about the actual living conditions themselves. The physical space or characteristics for the security housing units vary slightly from prison to prison. You’ve been provided, I believe, in your informational packet, with some photographs. Let me tell you from my purview of these photographs they all appear to be Pelican Bay photographs. Is that accurate?
So I’m going to talk to you about a little bit of differences in a couple of other facilities.
The physical characteristics of a cell range from 75 to 85 square feet. In Corcoran, the cells measure 12 feet 4 inches by 6 feet 10 inches or approximately 75 square feet. They have windows that allow in exterior light. They’re narrow windows and, again, you don’t see those in these pictures necessarily. And their cells have the same mesh front that you would see in these pictures. So the front of the cell is that metal mesh.
In Pelican Bay – those are the pictures that you’re seeing – the cells actually measure 8 feet by 10 feet or roughly 80 square feet with metal mesh fronts, and while they don’t have a window to the exterior, they have skylights that allow in ambient light to the unit, and those fronts are open metal mesh that you see in the photographs.
In Tehachapi, the cells measure 7 feet by 11 feet, or 77 square feet. They, however, don’t have the metal mesh front doors. They actually have solid metal doors that have two narrow windows that the inmates can see out of, that staff can see in, and a trace lot that opens.
CSP Sacramento has 7 feet by 12 feet, approximately 85 square feet cells with solid cell doors like Tehachapi, with the two windows and the door and the tray slot. And I believe there’s another window next to the doors typically that looks out.
As a comparison, basic general population cell is 6 feet by 8 feet or 48 square feet, typically housing two inmates, but of course those inmates spend significantly fewer hours confined to their cells. Each cell has a toilet, sink, concrete bunk beds, mattress, electricity for radio, TV. Approximately, as I said before, half of the security housing unit inmates are double-celled.
The units are configured and – those of you that have been there and I know a few of you have – the tiers will change. So the minimum you would have four cells on the bottom of the tier and four cells on the top. So you have eight total cells in a particular unit. And that would go all the way up to potentially 24 inmates in one unit in cells that were double-celled and you had stacked. And the reason that that is important to understand is when you’re talking about interactions, if you will, those are the only other people other than staff that they’re interacting with. Inmates are allowed to talk to one another within their units, cell-to-cell. They do so on a regular basis. I’ve talked to them myself through the cells on multiple occasions.
Officers do have routines throughout the day – counts on an hourly basis as well as interaction as needed for feeding, mail delivery, escorts, shower, medical, dental, mental health appointments, law library, attorney visits. Also, chaplains and teachers are allowed to interact with inmates cell-front if they request or in a voluntary education program. My understanding currently is that about 750 of the 4,000 are currently availing themselves of some type of self-directed education program, be that basic literacy all the way up to college programs. The units also have inmate porters who interact with the inmates and interact between inmates.
SHU inmates typically are fed breakfast between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., at which time they are also provided with a sack lunch. A hot dinner meal is provided in the evening but all of their feeding is done in-cell. As far as any out-of-cell activity – again, depending on the configurations – it’s a little bit different. Pelican Bay is unique in that they allow inmates 90 minutes of exercise on an enclosed yard that is attached to the unit. You have the photographs of that within your documents. And that unit is actually considerably larger than the units provided in the other SHUs. It’s approximately 26 by 12 feet, about 325 square feet enclosed on all sides by concrete walls, but there is a mesh ceiling, if you will, that is open to the air and sunlight, etc. So there are 90 minutes of exercise on that yard per day. And as I said, you can see those in the pictures.
They are housed in a manner that allows them to be non-escorted. In other words, the officers can open the cells, they can walk out to that exercise yard – same way they can walk to showers.
In the other three SHUs, it’s different. Their exercise facilities are not attached to the unit itself. They’re actually outside of the units. They’re outside in the open air and they also have different measurements, each one of them roughly 160 square feet. So Tehachapi’s fenced-in units where the inmates are allowed to exercise are 12 feet by 14 feet. Sacramento’s are 10 feet by 15 feet. CSP Corcoran’s are roughly 15 feet by 11 feet. So again, you’ve about 150 to 160 square feet to exercise in. If you’re double-celled, your cell mate and you have the option to go to the exercise yard together or not.
The inmates during that time – again one of the differences in Pelican Bay – you may have the opportunity to interact while you’re walking to and from exercise or shower through the cells with other inmates. In the other SHUs, it’s a constant rotation where they’re bringing inmates out to the walk-alone yards and bringing inmates back in. So it’s a constant rotation because they’re trying to get through all the inmates with a minimum of three days a week, minimum of 10 hours per week. So you might be out there anywhere from two to four hours and during that time while you physically cannot interact with inmates in another walk-alone unit, you can certainly see them, talk to them, etc. They’re separated and fenced in. So that’s what the out-of-cell activities in terms of exercise is like.
In terms of showers, Pelican Bay allows them daily and they run through it on a constant basis to allow for everyone to get a shower. The other SHUs allow for shower every other day and it’s on a rotating schedule.
Programs in terms of SHU incarceration are extremely limited. Within the past year, however, the department has begun, as I said, to offer academic education, and about 750 have availed themselves of that, where you have instructors who can go to the cells, give self-directed information, can proctor exams, et cetera. We’ve actually had a few complete their GEDs while in security housing this last year.
AMMIANO: What about counseling?
BARTON: Counseling in what sense?
AMMIANO: Well, counseling for emotional and mental health issues.
BARTON: Yes. Mental health clinicians do visit the security housing units as well, and they can request that as well. So there’s reviews that are done on a routine basis. They also – I should have said this before – Out of cell, they are allow time in every SHU to go to the law library. While they can’t go to the library like you or I would for recreational reading, they are allowed to request books and can keep up to 10 of them either by requesting it through the library or selecting books off a cart that’s brought into the SHU.
AMMIANO: In relation to the communication part, are sometimes inmates written up for a rules violation for communicating with another inmate?
BARTON: We actually had that – I don’t know if you recall – at the end of the last hunger strike, my office went up and did a review of that at Pelican Bay and what we found was that they weren’t written up just for talking to other inmates. What they were written up for was when they were in the view of the department inciting other inmates to violate the rules, in essence be in the hunger strike. And so we wrote an entire report on that.
AMMIANO: It just occurred to me now and I apologize to the other committee members: Your title is Inspector General. What exactly do you do as Inspector General?
BARTON: I oversee the office that has the mandate within the statutes of the Penal Code to give transparency and accountability to the Department of Corrections.
AMMIANO: Okay, so then you would do visitations to the different facilities?
BARTON: As I said, my staff is in the prisons every day, as have I. In addition, Pelican Bay as well as the other SHUs allow for inmates to purchase typewriters recently. Also they’re allowed to have radios, televisions. Each of them has access to TV channels. Pelican Bay has 23 channels, Corcoran 21, Tehachapi 12, and CSP Sacramento 16 total.
They are limited in the items they can purchase from the canteen. So you also have within your materials here the actual sections within the department’s Operations Manual where it talks about what property they’re allowed and not allowed to receive. But they can purchase some publications. They receive mail. They can receive packages.
Where there is a big difference between security housing and any other population is they are not allowed any contact visits. So all of their visits on weekends, while they are allowed the time to have those visits on weekends and holidays, they’re non-contact visits, so they’re through a Plexiglas barrier.
AMMIANO: There are visitors. It’s just that it’s …
BARTON: Yes. It’s just non-contact.
AMMIANO: No touching…
BARTON: Right. It’s not like in an open – normal visiting rooms that I’ve been in, you sit at the table with your family. You can talk to them. You can hold hands. That sort of thing. In these, you’re literally talking on a phone, seeing the person through Plexiglas, but there’s no touch.
AMMIANO: Ms. Skinner was asking how much time?
BARTON: Minimum of two hours – [audience murmurs] – and I know it depends on where you’re at. That’s what they’re supposed to have. I hear the groans. I know that there are issues in getting people there, and I know that there are places where the travel time to and from is counted against the inmate. So there are issues like that. But that’s what their own rules provide for.
SKINNER: Two hours once a month? Two hours – ?
BARTON: Per visit on the weekends. So the real issue is where these prisons are located. It’s hard for family members to get there. So to get up to Pelican Bay for a two hour visit, even if you get the whole two hours, is difficult for many. But I don’t think any of us in the room here now chose the locations. However
AMMIANO: I’ve been violating my own rule here because we want the information, we are going to let you finish and go on to the other panelists, and then hit you with questions. (27m)
The next thing I was going to talk about was the terms of confinement. Inmates are placed in Security Housing Units either for determinate or indeterminate terms. Depending on the institution, they’re confined to their cells for approximately 20 to 22 hours per day with out-of-cell time, as I said, for yard, shower, attorney visits, weekend visits, law library, medical, dental appointments.
If an inmate, while in prison, commits a serious or violent offense, they can be placed in the SHU for a determinate term of 6 months to 5 years. That means that at some point, that term is going to end, depending on the offense. Approximately 40% of the current SHU inmates have determinate terms of 5 years or less that they’re currently housed for. Inmates who are deemed to be validated gang members or associates by CDCR can be placed in SHU for indeterminate terms. These account for approximately 60% of the SHU population and are about to break down what you mentioned before.
As of July 2013, there are approximately 1,900 out of the 4,000 inmates in secured housing units that have life terms. There are now currently 23 inmates who have served more than 25 years in the SHU. There are 84 who have served more than 20 years. There are 106 who have served more than 15 years. And there 197 that have served more than 10 years. And another 574 that have served more than 5 years. So it’s basically 984 out of the 4,000 have served more than 5 years in secured housing units. From September 2012 to September 2013, approximately 273 inmates have paroled directly from a secured housing unit. So that’s an average of approximately 23 per month average. In closing, I would thank you for this opportunity to brief you on those physical and programming conditions of secure housing units in California and as I said will be glad to answer any questions I can, but defer those to the department regarding any specifics.
AMMIANO: I thank you and we will go on to the other two presentations. So, Mr. Stainer:
MICHAEL STAINER, DIRECTOR OF CDCR DIVISION OF ADULT INSTITUTIONS, and KELLY HARRINGTON, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF CDCR DIVISION OF ADULT INSTITUTIONS:
Thank you …Based upon our understanding of this hearing today, I did not prepare a statement. However, I’m more than willing to take any type of questions that the panel may have.
KELLY HARRINGTON, Acting Deputy Director for CDCR: Good afternoon. Kelly Harrington. Currently the Acting Deputy Director for the Department of Corrections. I oversee the field operations and prior to this assignment, I was the Associate Director for the High Security Missions for the last three years, which oversees all the security housing units. So as Director Stainer said, we’re here to answer any questions for the panel. Thank you.
AMMIANO: Okay. Were there any disciplinary actions taken against the inmates who participated in the hunger strike this summer?
STAINER: There were.
AMMIANO: And what kind of disciplinary actions were there? Privileges revoked or…?
STAINER: Well, they’re still going through the hearing process in quite a few of them. However, each of the inmates that did participate in the work stoppage or hunger strike or refusing cell mates at the various prisons were – if they continued on the demonstration for more than 3 days on the hunger strike, they did receive a rules violations report [RVR].
AMMIANO: And are they informed of what the rule violations would be?
AMMIANO: And they don’t change? You don’t move the goal posts during the game and – ?
STAINER: I’m not sure I understand …
AMMIANO: Well, let’s say you told me what a rule violation is and somewhere along the line there was another rule violation – are they uniform? Are they constant? Or do they change – what would violate a rule – and is the inmate informed that that rule has changed and now something that was allowed is not allowed?
STAINER: Yes, I think we understand your question. Anytime we make any type of changes to the Title 15 or any of our rules, or DOM, those rules are posted. The inmate should be informed. We have specific processes in each of the institutions on how they inform inmate population of any specific rule changes.
AMMIANO: The gentleman referred to determinate sentences, 5 years etc. But What’s the longest term an inmate has served in the SHU?
STAINER: I don’t have that figure right off the top of my head. However, I want to say we have somebody in there that’s been in there probably really close to 30 years.
AMMIANO: Yeah. And more. [Gavels] Here, see this? (gavel), I did it …
STAINER: So I’ll defer to the crowd.
AMMIANO: So you don’t know what the longest term. Approximate 30. So the rationale for housing inmates in the SHU is safety. Recently, CDCR received and reviewed, I mean, released from the SHU inmates who have been considered gang associates. Has there been any increase in the level of violence due to the release of the former SHU inmates into the general population?
STAINER: I think at this point, you know, we are monitoring that. We’re trying to collect that data. We’ve recently just begun collecting that data. So I cannot say that there has or has not at this point with any type of assurance that it’s correct.
AMMIANO: Is there an update that you might have about the SHU inmates who have been hospitalized because of the hunger strike? Are they back in SHU or are they fine in terms of their physical ailments?
STAINER: At this point, we do not have any inmates that participated in this mass disturbance that are still hospitalized.
AMMIANO: I think there’s some dispute, you could say, I think it’s safe to say. [smiles]
STAINER: Excuse my use of those words. That’s, you know xxx
STAINER: However, I was at Pelican Bay on Monday, and I actually talked to quite a few of the individuals that did participate, and I was pleased that they were doing as well as they were.
AMMIANO: Any other questions?
SEN. LONI HANCOCK (D-OAKLAND): Yes thank you. I have a number of questions about how we manage the SHUs. Who specifically at CDCR headquarters is responsible for monitoring the conditions of confinement in SHU and AdSeg? The Inspector General comes in under certain conditions but somebody must be monitoring them all the time. Is that your position, Mr. Harrington?
HARRINGTON: Yes. Well, that was my prior position as the Associate Director over the High Security Mission. So I had all of the security housing units under my purview. Then now that I’ve moved over as Deputy Director, we have another individual in that position that monitors that.
HANCOCK: Okay. And the title is Associate Director of the High Security Mission?
HANCOCK: Thank you. And maybe you could just clarify for me, Mr. Barton, how does the Office of the Inspector General get involved and when?
BARTON: There are three or four different ways. So one of them is in the complaint process. When we receive complaints from inmates or inmate family members or the legislature or the Governor’s office specific to a secured housing unit inmate, we will follow up on that and determine whether or not appropriate actions are being taken.
Second way that we are involved is in our use of force monitoring. Every single use of force used in the prisons are to be documented, recorded, and we monitor that. And so typically, when there is an issue that ends in a use of force, we are going to be monitoring how the department behaved before the incident, what led up to the incident, how it was handled, what the appropriate outcomes are, whether there was negligence or misconduct or inappropriate force, etc. So that’s another way we would get involved.
The third is in terms of our overall monitoring of the discipline process within CDCR. So anytime there’s a staff complaint or allegation against staff, we have our attorneys or inspectors who basically sit in with Internal Affairs to review those misconduct complaint allegations against staff. And so if an investigation has started, we will monitor that investigation.
And I haven’t done a specific study to find out how many staff members in SHUs received complaints as opposed to staff members in other parts of the prison. Something I certainly could look at in the future. We tend to look at them all – all of the staff complaints in the same milieu, if you will, so I’ve never broken it down. But that is another way where we become involved.
And then ultimately when we’re vetting wardens for the Governor’s office, we do an institutional review and of the prisons that we’re talking about, Pelican Bay has a recently retired warden, so they’ll be having a new warden. Corcoran recently had Ms. [Connie] Gipson, who went through the vetting process. Tehachapi had Ms. [Kim] Holland, who recently went through the vetting process. And CSP Sac[ramento] has not, at least while I’ve been the Inspector General; they’ve had the same warden the whole time. So while in that vetting process we are scrutinizing the whole prison. But because they have such major portions that are secured housing, we will go in, talk to inmates, talk to staff, see what the problems are, see if the warden or the prospective warden is handling any issues, is aware of those issues. So that is another part where we interact, if you will, with these SHU prisons. So in all of those areas, we come across issues with SHU and oversee them.
But when you were talking about on a daily basis, who’s making sure things are happening in the SHU the way they’re supposed to, unless there’s something that’s triggered us to take a look at it, you know, I don’t have staff who are standing there side-by-side with the correctional officers. We get called in or we’re reacting to a complaint or one of our other mandates.
HANCOCK: Okay. Thank you. But at the moment, you’re not breaking out SHU confinement as against general population?
BARTON: In terms of staff complaints, no. But I have to think – I’m certainly not the person in charge of our IT section – I have to think that’s something a computer could do.
HANCOCK: Yeah, I would too. And I think it’s the kind of information that would be very useful to us. So then, I have a question for Mr. Harrington. What specific mechanisms do you use in CDCR to monitor the conditions in the SHU? Of particular interest to me is how do you test the gap between policy and actual practice in the prisons?
HARRINGTON: So, there are several documents that we utilize. The most important one is probably our COMPSTAT reviews that we have for each of the institutions, which breaks down several areas as far as their population, grievances or appeals that they received from inmates, their population, disciplinaries. It goes through the whole gamut of operations at the institution. And so as the Associate Director, you identify any issues or concerns on that COMPSTAT report and then directly with the wardens during site reviews, we’re required to go out to each of the sites. The High Security Mission has 9 prisons. We go out at least once a quarter, meet with the wardens, meet with their staff, and tour each of the units, and that includes the security housing units, so ensuring that those mechanisms are in place. And if you see any spikes in issues or concerns that, at our level, we address them with the warden and their staff as they come up.
HANCOCK: Okay, well, specifically, for example, how would you know if an inmate was wrongly validated as a gang member and placed in SHU for that reason?
HARRINGTON: So if an inmate believes that they are wrongly validated, they have a process that they go through and that process is through the 602 grievance process for the inmate. (41m) And as those work their way through the system, that’s when I would become aware of it, if it made it up to our level. Most of those are either granted or denied at lower levels before they get to the Director’s level or the third level of review. And that – I know we don’t want to get into the new step-down or security threat group concerns now, but that’s some of those items that we’re looking at or in the pilot program that we’re addressing to put in some more due process at this time.
HANCOCK: I’m glad that you’re doing that. Could you just describe the process right now? The prisoner has been accused, validated as a gang member. And to whom does the prisoner approach? What kind of a hearing is there? What level of officer who is hearing the appeal?
STAINER: Just to go real briefly through the process. So the gang investigator, once they complete the investigation and if they believe there’s enough information to validate the inmate, they would submit a package. Once they put that package together, they’ll actually meet with the inmate and allow the inmate a chance to rebut the information. You know, I’ll be candid. Most of the time, that information still goes forward and it’ll be submitted to the Office of Correctional Safety. The Office of Correctional Safety will review all the information and see if it meets our criteria with our policy. And at that point, they will – yesterday’s policy, they would actually say that person is validated or not validated. With today’s policy, they will make a recommendation now to either accept or reject that validation and then send it back to the institution.
The biggest change to this policy is now the inmate will now appear before a committee who will actually review that. So – and this was never been the case before, where he’ll actually sit in front of a classification committee chaired by a correctional captain, who then review every aspect of that validation and at that point affirm or reject that validation. And at that point, the inmate is either validated or not validated. Now, once that’s taken place, the inmate still has all of his appeals rights where they can appeal – continue through that process.
HANCOCK: But appeal to whom?
STAINER: To the institution. [audience laughter] You know, a lot of the inmates will… They will appeal to the institution…
HANCOCK: Does that mean the warden? Who does it mean?
STAINER: It’s an actual process, ma’am, and what it is, is that they would fill out a document to submit it. They would receive a log number. It will be reviewed by the institution at two levels. First and second level. And then it would go – if it’s denied through those two levels, it can be submitted for the Director’s level review or the third level review.
And if it’s at that point still denied, then the inmate…has exhausted his administrative remedies and he may file a writ.
HANCOCK: He may file a what?
STAINER: A writ, to the courts.
HANCOCK: Where in this process does the prisoner have an advisor or an advocate or counsel? (44m)
STAINER: Well, the counsel would be, of course, if he chooses to retain counsel through the writ process. However, at the institutional level, he can receive a staff assistant during the interviews provided that he – if there’s any mental health issues or if the person has any communications barriers. But for the most part, there’s no counsel or advocates or representatives
HANCOCK: Or advisors …
STAINER: to give advice through the institutional appeals process.
HANCOCK: Let me just say that seems to me to be a huge problem. [Audience applause]
How would you make judgements about the quality of the food and whether food is being used in any way as a punishment?
STAINER: I think after just meeting with four of the Pelican Bay representatives, there’s some things that we are supposed to be doing and we’re verifying that we are doing those things. And number one is having staff as well as inmate food samplers where they are filing out the forms for every meals, many of them being reviewed by the warden. Want to make sure that that’s happening and is alive and well. And that process, I’ve found, in the past being a former warden and supervisor within the correctional facilities, it’s really a good way to actually keep abreast of what the population as well as the staff are thinking about the food service. Presently, our ombudspersons that tour the institutions, every time they’re at those institutions, they are sampling the meals. They’re doing a review of the food – its preparation, its presentation, the temperatures, so that as well as, when the inmate population’s not satisfied with the meals, they’re pretty adamant – they will file the appeals. So that again is something that, as a warden or as a prison administrator, kind of tells you what the pulse of your institution.
HANCOCK: Right. And do you keep track of those so there could be a brief report at the end of the year so that we could tell which institutions might be having problems with food in terms of inmate complaints and which ones might not?
STAINER: The appeals are kept track of very closely and logged and the reasons for the appeals. As far as the meal reports themselves that I spoke of earlier, those are maintained by the prison locally.
HANCOCK: Okay. To me, this is an example of the kinds of data that we should be getting on COMPSTAT. It should be identifiable and it should be available to policymakers so that they could be handled without prisoners having to take extreme steps to advocate on their own behalf. I’m also interested in how inmates for SHU and for AdSeg really are evaluated for either cognitive issues or mental health issues.
HARRINGTON: So any inmate when they’re placed first, before they go to SHU, they are placed in administrative segregation. And those inmates are evaluated by our mental health clinicians prior to going into the security housing units or AgSeg in the security housing units. And then if they’re placed in a mental health program, then they’re constantly monitored. So the inmates that are in Pelican Bay SHU – the Security Housing Unit there – we’re not allowed to place mental health inmates into those units up there.
The inmates that are evaluated and are either at the CCCMS or the EOP level of care, they’re either housed at CSP Corcoran, Tehachapi or CSP Sac(ramento). And so our mental health clinicians interact with them daily if they need to and on an ongoing basis.
HANCOCK: Can you tell us what CCCMS and EOP mean in terms of popularly understood mental health categories?
HARRINGTON: So triple CMS [CCCMS] is probably a lower level of care for an inmate, and depending on – or mental health care – depending on what their concerns are.
HANCOCK: For example …?
HARRINGTON: Of course, I’m not a mental health clinician. But it could be as small as they have issues sleeping, and so they are prescribed medication. So they would go into the CCCMS level of care. Or an inmate that is severely – has some severe mental health issues could be at the EOP, which is the enhanced outpatient level. So those inmates are seen more often. They have a need for higher level of care. Those are the inmates that Mr. Barton spoke about that ,if they get a security housing term, they’re at the PSU – the psychiatric services unit. So they’re in interactive processes. They have group therapy. They’re taken care of by mental health clinicians a lot closer.
HANCOCK: But they do get placed in SHU?
HARRINGTON: Yes, a lot of those inmates are determinate SHU terms. So they committed some type of crime in prison, either stabbing assaults or batteries. So that’s when they get those security housing unit terms.
HANCOCK: OK. So housing is different? When I was at Pelican Bay, I thought the psychiatric unit that I saw was more like a holding place where you would go for a therapy or discussion. It wasn’t a different cell.
HARRINGTON: Yeah, you probably went to the treatment area is where you were at. The cells are actually – they’re a different design than what you probably saw in the SHU. They’re more of a design like you would see at Corcoran or Tehachapi. The cells have windows that go out to the outside. So that’s kind of the difference.
HANCOCK: Are they in cell block C or D?
HARRINGTON: At Pelican Bay? No. They’re on A yard. [he looked across for the answer] Yeah, C and D is the security housing.
HANCOCK: But to your knowledge, no one with a mental health issue would be placed in SHU?
HARRINGTON: [Pause] With a mental health issue not placed in SHU?
HARRINGTON: Well, what they are – the EOP inmates go to the PSU. Inmates that are CCCMS are in security housing units but not at Pelican Bay.
HANCOCK: They cannot be placed in Pelican Bay. Could you just tell me what CCCMS means?
HARRINGTON: It’s clinical… [smiles, can’t respond]
STAINER: It’s Correctional Clinical Case Management System. 52m
HANCOCK: Okay, thank you. And those people can go to SHU but it would be at Corcoran or some place else?
HANCOCK: Nobody in Pelican Bay would go into the SHU with a mental health issue?
HANCOCK: Okay. Thank you. Thank you.
AMMIANO: Thank you. Before I go to other … when you mention group therapy, what I saw was group but each inmate is in a different … I don’t want to use the word “cage” [audience laughs] … I’ll use it … that’s group therapy pretty much?
HARRINGTON: Correct. They’re treatment modules.
AMMIANO: [smiles, speechless, hesitates before speaking] I … I … I’ve gotta say this, I know you’re doing your best, but there are so many … there are just so many comparisons to a zoo: feeding, terms, treatment modules, I dunno, we gotta do something about that. And my other question is, real quickly, what is the suicide rate in the SHU, do we have any numbers on that?
STAINER: We don’t have those numbers with us, we have had suicides in the SHU, I don’t remember the last one honestly …
AMMIANO: I think there was one recently … I’m not sure, was just curious … all right, Assemblywoman Skinner, and then Anderson …
ASSEMBLYWOMAN NANCY SKINNER: I think what we would be interested to know is not only the suicide rate and I think it would be important to see it over time, but also attempted … On the fact sheet that’s in our packet, the Security Housing Unit fact sheet [provided by CDCR], the first paragraph it states: “The SHU is not.” But yet it states that, you can get into SHU … let me step back … it says that it’s designed to isolate people who would violate the security of the prison and it’s not designed nor intended as punishment for misbehaviors.” So I can imagine that there would be some appreciation folks who are very violent while in prison might need to be segregated, but then further it says, you can be put in the SHU for drug trafficking, and I’m not defending that offense, but it’s not described here as a violent offense, so I’m not sure why drug trafficking would – if it’s not designed nor intended as punishment for misbehavior – why then it puts a person in SHU.
Or the issue on gangs. If the gang member has committed a violent act in prison, under guidelines this seems to fit, but just being in the gang, as you read this staff, there’s, what, 60% of the population is there due to being a gang member. And unless we see some data, they may not have committed any violence while they were in prison [audience applause]. 56m so I’d like to see those number delineated. And how the notion that it’s not used for punishment for misbehavior, how that correlates then to the use of putting people, being gangs, in the SHU. I’ve got a bunch of other questions, you could respond to that, and then …
STAINER: Well, real quick, with regards to the drug trafficking and… drugs are probably one of the biggest issues that we have within the prison and there’s quite a link to violence and assaults and debts and inmates that have to lock up due to acquiring drug debts, that are assaulted due to drug debts or struggles for power within the prison system that is based upon drugs. You know, that’s why that linkage is there. With regard to the gangs and the membership alone, and I think to answer – yesterday’s policy put a man in SHU based simply upon his association or affiliation with a gang. Recognizing the fact that we needed to make some changes within our policies, specifically with regard to that, the new policy addresses individual behavior and individual accountability. So while a man could be validated, doesn’t necessarily mean that he would go to SHU based solely upon that validation and being identified as an affiliate of a gang. So, again, we are reviewing inmates every week and some are being retained based upon behaviors; some are being released based upon lack of those behaviors.
SKINNER: That’s a good change, but I wonder if there’s been any look at whether you had any reduction in gang membership as result of putting so many people in SHU?
STAINER: I don’t know that that’s the case at all. However, I was just having a conversation with one of our special project team member today and we were talking about just that – what is going to be the effect of this new policy. Are we going to have more or less validations? Are we going to have more or less people being sent to SHU based upon behaviors? Quite honestly, we don’t have the database to do that. We’ve put in special request for funding for that. We need this informational gathering system to judge whether or not these policies are effect, to measure the effectiveness of these policies. And that would lead us into the next phase of adjustments to the policies and are we doing the right thing.
SKINNER: …And that’s why I raised it. Because it’s like many things in life: If we’re doing something ostensibly for one purpose but it’s not having – you know, we have a lot of people in SHU, but if we’re not having any reduction in gang membership then we have to evaluate whether that’s even a useful purpose at all. [Audience applause] And it would be helpful to see some data…
And perhaps, our co-chairs and staff might be able to help us, perhaps we could make a list of, Senator Hancock you raised some data issues you’d like, maybe we could prepare …
AMMIANO: Suicide …
SKINNER: this, some of the data that would be useful, start to be collected so that we as legislators could begin to review this. Especially now with the charge we have not only from the courts but from the legislation we enacted from Governor Brown, in terms of trying to look at a different model in terms of bringing not only our numbers in prison down, but also the pipeline of who’s going into prison down, and of course while the SHU is only a percent of our prisoners, it’s a factor in all of this. 1h And so this data could be very helpful to us, we should start to make these kinds of lists.
The other piece of data that I would like to see is the growth in numbers of inmates in SHU over, I think probably the last… I’m not sure what would be the most useful, but whether it’s over the last 20 years. But that would be useful to know. And why? We may have to extrapolate on why, but definitely seeing the numbers because it seems to me it’s clearly grown and has it made our prisons – it certainly caused the state to bear a larger cost because it’s quite expensive but is there any associated benefits to us?
The thing I’d say about the gang membership – again, not to defend gang membership – but certainly if you’re a prison inmate, because of the dynamics – all humans form groups. That’s what we do. No matter what circumstance we’re in. [Audience applause]
AMMIANO: I gotta ask you to hold your applause.
SKINNER: And if you’re in that kind of setting, you’re forming a group for lots of reasons, whether it’s for protection, it’s for – who knows. But it’s a very natural human tendency. And to have as a policy – and I know you’ve just described some change to it – but to have as a policy being put in the SHU for that reason alone just seems very, very difficult to justify… Other questions …
The women – 74. What was it 5 years ago? I would like to see what was it 5 years ago, what was it 10 years ago. I have a much harder time imagining – I’m not trying to be naive that there’s no violent women – but I’m having a much harder time figuring out why there’s 74 women in SHU. And if some portion of them are really people that have mental health issues and need mental health treatment, then it doesn’t seem to be the appropriate use of our resources to have them in SHU. And I’d like to understand better what causes a woman to be put in SHU.
I guess I really asked this before: The statement around it being mostly to try to segregate violent people and then, the other, that it seems to be the opposite given how many are in there for other reasons. But the 2006 bipartisan Committee – this was a federal committee – [Commission] on Safety and Abuse in Prisons report  and the U.S. judicial committee hearing [Sen. Dick Durbin, June 2010] indicated in their verbal testimony [there is also a written record] that SHU should only be used as a last resort and if again it seems to me that we need to refine our criteria because it doesn’t seem now to being used as a last resort.
And I raise this not only because of a concern I have around the impacts of [on] prisoners who are in SHU but also the cost to us. And as chair of the budget, when we’re finally in a situation where California is not in a deficit, yet we only have temporary taxes, we have to do everything we can to get our costs of incarceration down and increasing numbers of people in SHU is not getting our costs down.
So I would like to see some more data around who’s in there and why and whether we can’t refine it so that we really are using it as a last resort. I think those were my primary …
AMMIANO: Let me jump in, we’ve got about five minutes left, we want the Senator to have an opportunity, and Madame Co-Chair also has a question.
BARTON: I was just going to address the statistical information. One of the things our office just started doing was the adherence to blueprint. And one of those is the gang validation part of it. So we just established the baseline. The report that’s about to come out will indicate that of 528 inmates endorsed to SHU terms that have been evaluated thus far under the new process, 343 will be released back to general population. 1h5m To me, that is a very hopeful trend that as we continue, the department is saying they can get through all of them in two years. If those numbers hold true, hopefully another 30%, 40% will be released out of SHU. So I think that’s at least hope and we will continue to monitor the progress and give you those reports.
SEN. JOEL ANDERSON (R-San Diego): I’ve heard about some of the offenses that would qualify you – qualify an inmate to be put in the SHU. But perhaps you can just quickly give me an idea of what some of the other offenses would be to qualify somebody for the SHU?
STAINER: Typically, possessions of weapons, battery on staff, battery on inmates, other violent offenses, narcotics trafficking, attempted murder, murder.
ANDERSON: Okay. And then you were asked earlier the longest length of – perhaps you know what the average length of time in the SHU is.
HARRINGTON: I believe it is 3.93 years. [it has been reported as 6 years]
ANDERSON: And then – so an inmate gets moved to the SHU, is there a set time you say you’re going to be in SHU for 5 years, 3 years, 2 years. How does that work? Do they just get put in the SHU indefinitely or do they have a timeframe in which they know that they’re going to be released?
HARRINGTON: So the inmates that commit crime within prison that are placed in the SHU, they’re given a determinate sentence – kind of a determinate sentence in SHU. So they’ll know how long they’re going to be in the SHU. Ranges anywhere from 3 months up to 5 years if they commit a murder in the prison. The gang members and some constant issues that inmates that can’t program for whatever the reason, they’re give like an indeterminate SHU term and they’re reviewed at different times during their SHU term to see if they can be released back out as long as they’re not involved in gang activity.
ANDERSON: So are there … Since they know they’re sentenced to that determinate time, are there any incentives – is there any way that they can reduce that time?
HARRINGTON: Actually, when they’re first placed in the SHU under the determinate time piece, a third of that is already knocked off when they go in. So for instance if they’re in for a year or if their SHU term is a year, they’ll only do a 9 month SHU term. Now, the incentive is to come out in 9 months, but if they violate or have more disciplinary actions while they’re in the SHU or the security housing unit, they can lose that time and they can spend up to the year.
STAINER: I can also state that Mr. Harrington and myself both being former wardens and classification personnel within SHU facilities, we see inmates on a regular basis during classification and we have suspended SHU terms just based on the inmate’s behavior.
ANDERSON: Perhaps you covered this but I missed it. Are the conditions inside the SHU monitored by any entity outside of CDCR? Is there an outside entity that monitors the conditions?
HARRINGTON: Mr. Barton and his office monitor the conditions. And then also we’re going through an accreditation process with the American Correctional Association, who has come out to several of our institutions and accredited the institutions. And most recently, they have came out to Pelican Bay State Prison and they have been accredited. So they are monitored, and that’s an ongoing process that they do audits on those units. [Note: CDCR Sec. Jeffrey Beard is a member of the ACA board; the accreditation is fee-based, paid for. This is not an independent outside monitor.]
HANCOCK: Thank you, I do have just two other quick questions. Could you give us the actual financial differences between having someone in the SHU and someone in the general population? I’ve heard $20,000 more for a person in SHU. I’ve heard twice as much. There are all kinds of figures out there but you probably have it down cold.
STAINER: No, I do not have it down cold. However, I think between $15,000 to $20,000 does seem accurate.
HANCOCK: So it would be about $70,000 per prisoner instead of $49,000? OK …. Never mind ..
STAINER: What I’d like to do is actually provide you with the accurate information.
HANCOCK: OK … Because we haven’t been very successful sharing savings in probation and we’re looking at doing that in parole now so it’s interesting to know what the savings would be were we to cut back which might be re-invested in other ways within and without CDCR.
My other question is really a ‘public safety in the community’ question. I realize that a number of people in SHU are LWOP – life without possibility of parole. They will never get out. They may get back to the general population but they will be in prison. Others are lifers – 25 to life. Unless a parole board agrees, they may spend a very long time in prison. But a number of people are there on a determinate sentence, which means they will be released. Now, you said about 23 a month, Mr. Barton, are released from SHU to parole. I’ve seen other research data that say someplace between 50 and 100 …
BARTON: I think that was before realignment.
HANCOCK: … before realignment were directly released. My concern is what happens to people who are released from these conditions of deprivation of other human contact or activities or planning for themselves. And I believe you said really the only program open to them is independent study on tapes and that sort of things, and to me that seems like something that every community in California should be concerned about because I don’t think they’re being prepared for rehabilitation and re-entry. Now, I know you said there’s a 45-day program on life skills [audience laughter] but, you know, if people have been there for 5 years or more and are released, aren’t there any other programs that you can imagine putting in particularly for that population, which is about 1,800 people?
STAINER: I think we do recognize that same concern. First, I’d like to say self-directed or voluntary education is not the only program that we have right now within the SHU population. The wardens and the administrators at the institutions actually have been quite proactive in putting together some programs.
Each of the SHUs have religion and participants in that – not just at the cell-front although it is the main mode of transmission at Pelican Bay. However, you go to Tehachapi, they actually bring the inmates out in the dining hall and while they are in the therapeutic modules or holding cages, [audience murmurs] they still get to participate as a group in religious activities. They have self-help groups at these institutions as well. AA and NA celebrate recovery at Tehachapi. Parenting, anger management, and Narcotics Anonymous at Corcoran. New Beginnings at Pelican Bay as well as AA and NA. We do recognize that one thing we are lacking is probably some pre-release or transitional programming for the inmates that are going to be released. Presently, we do not have any of those programs. However, we are in discussions – very preliminary discussions — with the Department of Rehabilitative Programs within CDCR and exploring what we can put in place, whether they’d be some pre-release processes or education or actual transitional programs to better prepare the individual for reintegration into the communities.
HANCOCK: Thank you. I think that’s very important and maybe you could again give us for the budget hearing as Assemblywoman Skinner indicated, a list of what is currently available in the SHU of each institution. There’s only about 5 of them. OK. Thank you. Thank you very much.
AMMIANO: Thank you Senator. I’d like to wrap this up. One question that has been asked and I’ve been thinking about it too, is alternatives to the SHU, and Has there been any thought of not having the SHU and having an alternative to some of the problems that are perceived in qualifying for a situation like the SHU?
STAINER: I think probably the closest thing in that we are looking at right now would be our enhanced programming facilities as listed in the blueprint, and these are facilities where we believe there’s a number of inmates that get involved in activities because they don’t have a choice and we want to provide areas for them. And they don’t want to go to sensitive needs yards. However, we believe there’s an in-between ground there. If we can get more inmates who want to program, who want to participate in the opportunities that we’re able to provide – and provide them an environment where they’re able to do that, I think that’s an area that we can possibly reduce the violence within our facilities or just confine it to the non-programming type facilities. However, we’re always open to suggestions to things we can look at. We’re not against that at all.
AMMIANO: OK I want to thank you very much. You know what we often hear in these hearings is we’re looking into it, we’re reviewing it, we’re considering it, we’re concerned about due process, and I compliment those sentiments. But until there’s action, we’re gonna continue to scrutinize, hold your feet to the fire, just as we do everyone who’s incumbent in the positions and responsibilities that we hold. Thank you very much. And Now I’m gonna turn this over to my Co-chair Senator Hancock. 1h16m
HANCOCK: I want to thank you also, we appreciate very much your being here, and the information, and I look forward to the additional information and working with you to resolve some of these issues. Our next panel is on the policy and practice of segregated housing in prison, some of the national dialogue, what’s going on in other states, and an overview of the possibilities that may be open to us. We have two members of this panel, one is Margaret Winter, she is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, and Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. Her litigation in Mississippi was instrumental in reducing the state’s use of solitary confinement by 85 percent, and I’m quite interested in that particular case history in another state in our country. Keramet Reiter is an assistant professor of criminology, law and society at the School of Law at the University of California-Irvine, and has done a great deal of work on specific prisoners and the impacts of prison punishment and policy on individuals and communities. So welcome both of you, we appreciate very much your being here to share your work. 1h18mt
MARGARET WINTER, Associate Director of the National Prison Project for the American Civil Liberties Union:
I would like to thank Senator Hancock and Assemblymen Ammiano and the Public Safety Committee for holding these hearings. I very much appreciate the opportunity to participate in what I consider to be an extraordinarily important undertaking that I think could have national implications as well the implications for the state of California.
In my work with the ACLU over the last 20 years, I have investigated, monitored and brought class action litigation on conditions of confinement in prison and jail systems around the country. I have testified as an expert to the Prison Rape Elimination Commission, to The Committee on Safety and Abuse in American Prisons, to the Citizens Committee on Violence in the Los Angeles City Jails and I was recently invited by the President of the American Correctional Association to speak at the ACA‘s National Conference on Solitary Confinement. I have been asked by this Committee to give an overview of solitary confinement nationally and recent developments as to what other jurisdictions are doing today to address the issue of solitary confinement.
It is well known that the U.S. has the largest incarcerated population in the world, with 2.2 million people behind bars on any given day and that we have the worlds highest per capita incarceration rate too, a rate that is five to ten times higher than any western democracies like Canada, the U.K., Germany and France. But what is a less well known is that the U.S. prisoners in solitary confinement than any other nation. It is estimated that on any given day there are 80,000 in the U.S. held in solitary confinement.
Human beings are social animals. Being subjected to prolonged social isolation causes extreme psychic punishment and pain. And especially when that isolation is combined with enforced idleness and sensory deprivation – it causes agonizing psychic pain. And over time in solitary confinement, those who start out sane often develop mental illness. Those who start out ill are likely to become more seriously ill. It is well known that a very very big and significant portion of the prison population in California and nationwide is mentally ill to begin with. Some never recover from the effects of solitary confinement; they go round the bend, so to speak, irretrievably so that they don’t come back.
All of this has been known for a very long time. In 1890, the U.S. Court described observed the effects of solitary confinement like this: “A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi- fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community. “1
Virtually every reputable study of the effects of solitary confinement lasting more than 60 days has found evidence of its negative psychological effects.
Prisoners with seriously mental illness are particularly at risk. And almost every federal court to consider the issue has ruled that subjecting prisoners with serious mental illness or developmental disabilities to isolation violates the 8th amendment.
Teenagers, young people, are also at greatly heightened risk. Most suicides in juvenile corrections facilities occur in solitary confinement. And, in fact, there is adequate evidence to say that solitary confinement causes suicide. In the California system, the evidence is that 60 to 70% of successful suicides in prisons occur in solitary confinement.
So with all of this accumulated knowledge, why do we have 80,000 people every day in the United States in solitary confinement? What happened since 1890? Or since the mid-nineteenth century when all of this became well known? What happened was in the mid to late 1990s there was a mania for so-called SuperMax prisons, that is prisons entirely dedicated to long term solitary confinement. This mania swept the country. This was at a time of acute public anxiety about crime. SuperMax prisons, like draconian sentences and 3 strikes laws came into political fashion. It was like a statement that the state was “tough on crime”. There was a SuperMax building boom, and by 2006, more than 40 states, as well as the Federal government had at least one SuperMax prison.
In the last few years a national dialogue has opened up strongly questioning the utility and justification for solitary confinement.
Everyone agrees that some prisoners may need to be physically separated for some period of time to prevent them from hurting others. But even when there is a demonstrable compelling need, a security need for physical separation, the issue is whether there is ever, EVER justification for prolonged and extreme social isolation, sensory deprivation and enforced idleness.
There is a growing body of evidence that solitary confinement does little or nothing to promote public safety or prison safety. And that it is so harsh and so likely to damage people that is should be used as sparingly as possible. Only, ONLY for prisoners who pose a current, active, on-going serious threat to the safety of prison staff and other prisoners. It should be used only as a last resort and for as short a time as possible.
The evidence that solitary confinement is not only harmful, but unnecessary and incredibly costly has given rise to a rapidly expanding nationwide reform movement. The reform movement has been fueled in part by the financial crisis. The states are facing crushing budget deficits and spending for education, public health care and other basic public social services is being slashed to the bone.
A serious national debate has already opened up as to whether the staggeringly high cost of solitary confinement is justifiable. Incarceration is expensive. Solitary confinement is by the far the most expensive form of incarceration. The daily per prisoner cost at the Federal Bureau of Prisons highest security SuperMax is $80,000 a year, triple the cost in a non-SuperMax high security facility. The per prisoner cost in Illinois’s recently closed Tamms SuperMax was more than $60,000 per year, triple state’s average per prisoner cost.
Furthermore there is little or no evidence that solitary confinement actually promotes either public safety or prison safety. A 2006 on the effect of opening SuperMax prisons in Arizona, Illinois and Minnesota found that the SuperMax had either little or no effect on reducing violence or that it was actually associated with increased violence.
A 2007 study by the Mississippi Department of Corrections showed that violence levels plummeted by 70% of previous levels, when the Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections reduced the number of prisoners held in solitary confinement by 85%. That is, the level of violence declined in almost direct proportion to the radical reduction of solitary.
A reduction in the number of prisoners in segregation of prisoners in Michigan also has resulted in a decline in violence and other misconduct. And furthermore we cannot forget that prisoners who were held in solitary have higher recidivism rates than comparable prisoners who were not held in solitary.
I want to talk to you about Mississippi. Mississippi is the reddest of the red states. Mississippi was the unlikely trailblazer in radically reducing the use of solitary confinement. In 2004, the ACLU won a lawsuit challenging the horrific conditions on Mississippi’s death row, which was situated in a corner of Mississippi’s SuperMax unit, a 1000 bed facility known as Unit 32. Mississippi has a prison population of about 20,000 prisoners, 1000 of that was in SuperMax. Mississippi’s Commissioner had long insisted that solitary confinement was necessary for these 1000 men because they were “the worst of the worst”, violent gang members and there was no other way to keep the prison and public safe. But in 2007, after further litigation, something remarkable happened, Mississippi’s Commissioner agreed to work with a national classification expert from the NIC, an arm of the Department of Justice, that provides technical support to state prison systems and together with the ACLU’s mental health expert and with this NIC national classification expert.
The prison officials sat down with the Deputy Commissioner, the head of the prisoner classification team, with the prison’s mental health team, they sat down and over the course of a few weeks, they individually considered every single one of those 1000 cases. They applied evidence based risk assessment tools, which the NIC has developed and which have been tested many times. Applying these evidence based risk assessment tools and factors, they decided after careful review, the Mississippi officials, decided that at least 85 % of these 1000 men in the SuperMax did not need to be isolated, they should not be isolated.
Hundreds of them had serious mental health problems and needed to be diverted to a facility where they could get intensive mental health treatment. Hundreds more were in solitary merely because they were members of gangs or simply because they had violated many many rules, they had history rule infractions, many of them in response to intolerably harsh conditions, some of them acting out because they had behavior problems. But in any event, these men were not actually so dangerous to others as to need to be kept in solitary confinement.
Within a matter of months the Department had actually reduced its SuperMax population by 85%, from 1000 men to 150. And the result of this reduction was equally dramatic. The level of violence in the prison plummet to a small fraction of its former level. And these figures were later documented in a study by the Deputy Commissioner of Corrections and the NIC and the other people involved in this experiment.
I will never forget visiting Unit 32 in November 2007 and witnessing the transformation of a prison. I could hardly believe my eyes. This vast prison yard that always been so silent and empty was now filled with hundreds of men, peacefully playing basketball together in a newly created basketball courts, walking together to classrooms that had not previously existed before and going to a chow hall that had never existed before because they had never left their cells. This was a successful experiment.
Three years later, in 2010, the Mississippi Department of Corrections permanently shuttered Unit 32 and reduced the number of prisoners in solitary confinement, throughout the state, to a small fraction of what it had been. The state, in the process saved millions in operating costs, and that is a big deal in Mississippi which is one of the very poorest states. Mississippi’s Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps has used that experience to become a national spokesperson against the over use of solitary confinement, and as the current President of the American Corrections Association, Commissioner Epps has encouraged corrections officials nation wide to embrace reform.
Other states have followed in Mississippi’s path, including states with some of the largest prison populations in the nation. In 2008 New York passed the SHU Exclusion Act, a law that diverts prisoners with serious mental illness away from isolation and into mental health treatment units.
In 2010, Maine Department of Corrections – Maine had exceedingly harsh isolation policy. Maine reversed course voluntarily and made isolation a last resort rather than a default practice. And over the course of 18 months, the state reduced its solitary confinement population by 50%. At the end of 2012 the trend continued. Illinois permanently closed Tamms Correctional Center, the state’s only SuperMax prison. In 2013 Colorado closed a 316 bed SuperMax unit after cutting its solitary population by 1/3.
In the last few years, there has been a surge in state legislative activity to limit the use of solitary confinement. In 2013 bills were proposed to limit or ban the use of solitary confinement of juveniles in California, Florida, Montana, Nevada and Texas. Nevada actually enacted a bill that places restrictions on the use of isolation of youth in juvenile facilities. A similar bill on juvenile solitary confinement practices was introduced in Texas. And Texas passed a law requiring correctional facilities to review and report on their use of isolation. Maine, Colorado and New Mexico have each passed bills mandating studies on the use, impact and effectiveness of solitary confinement. And this is an incredibly powerful and important component of addressing the problem, of actually getting the data. Because most states don’t have it yet. A Massachusetts bill would require a hearing within 15 days of placement in segregation, limit segregation to no longer than 6 months, except in exceptional circumstances and provide for access to programing to prisoners in segregation.
The Federal government has also recently become involved in the movement to limit solitary confinement. In June 2012, the first ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement was held before the State Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. In 2013 U.S. Senate passed the Border Security Economic Opportunity Security Immigration and Modernization Act, which limits the length of solitary confinement to 14 consecutive days, 14 days, unless the Department of Homeland Security determines that continued placement is justified by extreme disciplinary infraction or is the least restrictive means of protecting the other detainees. The bill also banns the use of solitary for juveniles under the age of 18, restricts the use of solitary for those with serious mental illness and for involuntary protective custody.
Also in 2013 something very important happened when the Government Accountability Office , the independent investigative agency of the U.S. Congress undertook a comprehensive review of the use of solitary confinement by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Bureau is the nation’s largest prison system, holding about 15,000 people in solitary confinement. In May 2013, the GAO issued a report finding that the Bureau had never assessed whether solitary confinement has any effect on prison safety; that the Bureau had never assessed the effects of long term segregation on prisoners; that the Bureau did not adequately monitored segregated housing to insure that prisoners received food, out of cell exercise and other necessities. And the BOP agreed to adopt the GAO’s recommendations to gather data, to assess the impact of long-term segregation on prisoners and to assess the extent to which segregation actually serves the purpose of making prison staff, inmates and the public safe.
Another sign of the times that we are on a wave of reform is that in May 2013, the Department of Justice completed an investigation of solitary confinement in a small security prison in Pennsylvania and found that Pennsylvania was housing prisoners with serious mental illness and developmental disabilities in solitary confinement and that this practice violated the inmates rights, not only under the 8th amendment but also under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The Justice Department notified the Governor of Pennsylvania that the DOC was going to expand its investigation into the use of isolation on prisoners with serious mental illness and intellectual disabilities into other Pennsylvania prisons.
Many major national non-governmental organizations are now involved in the challenge to solitary confinement. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has made solitary reform a priority. In 2010, the American Bar Association revised its standards on treatment of prisoners to recommend strict limits on the use of solitary. In 2012, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry enacted policy opposing solitary confinement of juveniles. And also in 2012, the American Psychiatric Association approved policy opposing the prolonged segregation of people with serious mental illness. And now an effort is underway to amend the American Institute of Architects’ Code of Ethics to prohibit the design of facilities intended for prolonged solitary confinement.
There has been a new focus internationally against solitary confinement. In 2011, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Terror called for a ban on solitary confinement lasting longer than 15 days, and an absolute ban on solitary confinement for youth and the mentally ill. There were similar recommendations by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, similar, in 2013 from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, and that Commission concluded that countries should adopt strong concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite isolation under all circumstances, stressing that prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement may never constitute a legitimate instrument in the hands of the state.
There is now massive evidence to support the following 6 basic conclusions regarding solitary confinement:
First. Solitary confinement is so harsh and damaging that it should be used as sparingly as possible. It shouldn’t be the default. It should only be for prisoners who pose a current serious threat to the safety of others, only as a last resort and for as short a time as possible.
Second. Even when there is a compelling security need for physical separation, that is no justification for extreme social isolation, sensory deprivation and enforced idleness. Prisoners requiring long term physical separation from others should have meaningful access to telephone calls, letters, reading materials, tv, radio and in-cell programing. And they should have access to confidential counseling with mental health clinicians, not cell front, but confidential. They should recreate alongside of other prisoners even if they have to be confined to separate adjacent exercise yards.
Third. A prisoner should not be placed or kept in segregation without an individualized determination that physical separation is actually currently necessary for the safety of others. And that means real meaningful due process and a real meaningful review by classification team, mental health people, working together to do regular, periodic reviews. Prisoners should not be subjected to segregation merely because they are on death row or merely because they have a life sentence or just because they are gang members. It is a question of whether their conduct, their actual conduct, in prison creates a serious on going threat to safety.
Fourth. Juveniles should never be kept in solitary confinement. Solitary is damaging and dangerous for juveniles.
Fifth. Prisoners with serious mental illness or developmental disabilities should never be housed in solitary. They need to be in a therapeutic environment where they can get treatment. Mental health housing can be secure without being socially isolating people with mental illness.
Sixth, and in some way most important. Prisoners have to be given the opportunity to earn their way out of solitary confinement by their good behavior. Above the gate to Hell in Dante’s Inferno was written “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” And that should not be the mantra of state prisons.
These recommendations aren’t far out, they are not fringe. This is now the new, you are going to be seeing that this is the new mainstream. And California, we hope, will not be bringing up the rear, but will take its place in the vanguard of adopting these recommendations and finding a roadmap toward the goal of limiting the cruel practice of solitary confinement to the least possible use.
HANCOCK: Thank you, thank you very much. Professor Reiter …
KERAMET REITER, Assistant Professor at UC Irvine: (1h46m30s)
Thank you to the committee so much for holding this groundbreaking hearing. I think one of the first steps to prison reform in California is collaboration across multiple branches of government, and this hearing seems like a critical step in that direction, so I’m delighted to be here. I’m a professor of criminology and law at UC Irvine, and I’ve been studying California prison policy and reform for more than 10 years and I’m currently writing a book about the history and uses of solitary confinement in the United States with a special focus on California. So I’d like to contextualize California in the national story that Margaret Winter just gave us and make two straightforward points about segregation and solitary confinement in the states.
First, segregation is overused in California today. And second, as we had a sense I think from the first panel, we need more and better information about who’s in segregation in this state and why. So I’ll talk a little about each of those in turn – what we know and what it would be helpful to know.
First: Solitary confinement is overused in California. So we heard about snapshot data of how many people are in solitary confinement today in California and how long they’ve been there, and one of the things we heard today is that there’s hundreds of prisoners who’ve been there for more than 10 years. And when you look at data about people who are released, the average is two or more years that people spend in solitary confinement before release, but as we heard a large number of people in California aren’t released; they’re serving indeterminate sentences; they’re spending years and even decades in solitary confinement.
And this is unusual. The indeterminate sentences are unusual. According to a recent survey by Mother Jones, fewer than half of all states allow indeterminate assignments to SHUs like Pelican Bay. And in many states, only a few prisoners at a time serve these long sentences of a decade or more, and California has a few hundred.
And then again, in California, it’s not just the average stays are long, the sheer number of people in solitary confinement is quite high in this state. So California, as we heard today, has more than 4,000 people in SHUs right now, and these cells are actually often overcrowded. So at any given time over the last 10 to 15 years, roughly half the prisoners in the SHUs in California have been double-bunked. So it’s not just that we have a lot, they’re actually – they’re crowded just the way the rest of the prisons are.
Again, very few states compare with the number of prisoners in solitary confinement. Texas, New York, the federal prison system and California have these numbers in the thousands. Most states have a few hundred people in these conditions, and most states don’t double-bunk at the rate that California does in these cells where prisoners are there 22 to 23 hours a day.
So there’s a couple of big problems with having this many people in solitary confinement for so long. One is that it means that there’s thousands of people in any given year experiencing these harsh conditions of confinement and struggling with reintegrating when they get out. So we know that many people have mental health problems after they stay in these conditions and that transitions can be extremely difficult from solitary confinement back to the general prison population and then back to society.
And as we heard earlier, in the last year, a couple dozen people a month have been released directly from solitary confinement to the streets. In previous years, data I’ve analyzed suggested that it was much more; it was more, closer to a thousand a year, roughly 100 a month being released onto the streets. So we have this problem of lots of people in there but again, they’re not there permanently. The vast majority of people are ultimately going to get out and come back to our communities. Also, the impact of this policy is disproportionately felt by minorities. So the most recent data I’ve seen is that in the SHUs in California, about 56% of prisoners coming out are Latino as opposed to the general prison population where about 42% of prisoners are Latino. So we see this, you know, there’s already a disproportionate impact in the prison population but in the SHUs there’s an even greater, statistically significant disproportionate impact on minorities.
And then finally, this policy is incredibly expensive. So in California it’s estimated that upwards of $70,000 per year to keep a prisoner in the SHU, and that was data that was released in 2012. So it would be good to have updated data as was suggested earlier. This is more than $20,000 a year more than the average per prison[er] cost in California, and this is really high. California’s per prisoner costs are generally high within the nation, and this $70,000 number again is comparable to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and not many other places. So that’s the overuse of solitary confinement and segregation in California.
But the second point I want to make is about transparency and the kinds of information we could use to make better policies. So I want to talk about three categories of questions that would be really helpful to have more data and data over time, not just snapshot data in a moment at a hearing like this.
So I want to talk about (1) who’s in the SHU and why, (2) what happens to people in the SHU upon release, and (3) are our prisons safer and our communities safer because of the SHUs?
So in terms of this question (1) of who is in the SHU and why, what we often hear is that it’s “the worst of the worst” prisoners. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence behind this claim and less evidence that there are 4,000 or more of the worst of the worst prisoners. One of the main examples in California that is given to talk about the worst of the worst is an extremely violent period of time in California corrections in the 1970s when in a 3-year period 11 correctional officers died and more prisoners died between 1970 and 1973. This is around the time there was a shoot-out with George Jackson in San Quentin, 3 officers died in that. Other officers died around the same time in other prison systems. And this was a notably extremely scary time in the California prison system, especially if you were working there.
However, in the last 40 years, there have been half as many officer deaths as in that anomalous 3-year period in the early 1970s.
So since 1975 or so, our prisons have never been as violent as they were in the 1970s, and the same is true for prisoner homicides.
In the 1970s, the rate was high in California, spiking at about 18 homicides per 100,000 prisoners. And today, the rate of homicides in the California prison system – so, prisoner on prisoner violence – is less than 1 homicide per 100,000 prisoners. So it’s one thing that we can actually congratulate the Department of Corrections for, I think, is that their prisoner homicide rates are actually pretty low – lower than the general prison population – and that’s been true for a long time.
So this is the little bit of evidence we have about how many worst of the worst prisoners there are in the prison system, how much violence, and we need more. And given this evidence about how low rates of homicides have been in the prison system over the last 4 years, it suggests that maybe there aren’t 4,000 worst of the worst prisoners. But we don’t know. So the things we want to know are not just, as we heard today, how many prisoners are serving indeterminate sentences in the SHU today but how has this changed over time? So in any given year, how many prisoners are validated gang members, how many have committed rule infractions, what were those rule infractions? And we want to see that consistently over time so we can really analyze this population and look at who’s there and how dangerous they are.
And then we also want to know information about what was the evidence used at the hearing. What underlies these assignments to SHU confinement? And what was the evidence used at their regular reviews that kept them incarcerated? These prisoners who’ve been in there for 10 and 15 years – what did the hearing officers look at to determine that they needed to stay in the SHU? What were those? And was it violent, was it not? So we really need to know more about these people.
We also want to know – it was really interesting – California tries very hard, it sounds like, to not put people with mental illnesses into the SHU. So if as they leave the SHU they have a mental illness, that would also be really interesting to know. So it would be good to know how many people leaving the SHU have developed mental health problems since we know that the state try to ensure that they didn’t have mental health problems when they went in.
And then as the state reforms its policies, we want to continue to collect this kind of information – what evidence is being used in these new reviews looking back at these prisoners’ files and trying to get some of the people out of the SHU, and how do these prisoners do as they’re released into the general prison population? Looking, again, were they the worst of the worst? Were they not? How can we refine this over time?
So that’s the first question – (1) who’s the in the SHU, why? Better data.
(2) The second set of questions is what happens to prisoners after they are released from the SHU? How did they fare in the general prison population? How did they fare on parole out of prison?
I’ve interviewed dozens of former prisoners who spent time in the SHU, and my preliminary research suggests it’s transitioning from the deprivations of the SHU out to the street can be extremely challenging. Prisoners have trouble making basic decisions. They have trouble being in public places in crowds. All of the things that are happening, having not seen natural light or interacted with more than one person at a time for years — all of these things create all kinds of overwhelming sensations as they come out. And we don’t know what happens to them. As far as I know, we don’t track these people as they go out, and this would be really important information to have. And it will help us to think about how we can facilitate the transitions back to the community that 95% of our prisoners make. And it might provide further insight into how well our prison system identifies which of these prisoners are the worst of the worst.
People come out of the SHU and they do great as functioning members of society, it raises questions about whether they needed to be in the SHU in the first place.
(3) So the final set of questions is one that’s been a theme through some of the comments today, and that is, has solitary confinement made our prisons safer? So just as the Government Accounting Office [GAO] recently found that the federal prison system had never systematically evaluated the safety impacts of the federal segregation units, so California has never systematically conducted such an evaluation either. So we need data about violence and disciplinary infractions that’s specifically and systematically collected and analyzed. What disciplinary infractions underlie the SHU confinement? Are prisoners in the SHU because they committed acts of violence within the institution or for some other reason? And do they remain in the SHU because of acts of violence? And then when they’re released, do they commit fewer or more acts of violence in the institution? And we also need to know more and more specific information about where and how violence takes place in the prison system. Are there assaults that take place in the SHU units? How frequent are those? Are the SHUs themselves safe places? Are there assaults that take place in the prisons that surround the SHUs? Are those institutions safe or safer for having a SHU? So these are the kinds of things that would really help us to assess: Are these institutions making our prisons and our communities safer?
So I want to sum up by saying that in collecting better data and reducing California’s reliance on isolation and segregation, there’s a challenge of trying to reconcile two things.
One is that we have to work with correctional administrators to design better policies. On the one hand, California has institutionalized deference to administrators who played a significant role in designing the physical structures and operational policies of SHUs like Pelican Bay and Corcoran. So they write the rules about when people get sent to isolation, how those hearings work – they make those determinations often in the absence, as I think this committee is hearing, of legislative or judicial oversight.
On the other hand, correctional administrators make these really tough decisions, manage these really tough populations, and face overcrowded prisons and often get blamed for things that go wrong. They’re left alone to resolve hunger strikes, to resolve overcrowding. And so I think in working on these solutions, it’s important to work with them to acknowledge that these are really tough problems that they’re facing that they don’t always have control over, and to figure out what would give them better resources.
There’s that piece.
But that also has to be reconciled with the need for basic humane conditions of confinement in the state of California. I think it’s helpful to remember that prior to the 1970s, California was looked to as a model of effective and humane incarceration throughout the U.S. and around the world. It was a nice position to have and it would be nice to gain that place of respect again in correctional policy and within the nation.
HANCOCK: Thank you very much. Are there any questions from members of the Committee?
AMMIANO: I did enjoy your comment about the – if you do get out of the SHU and become a productive member of society, then why the heck were you in the SHU in the first place? Just wondering if there are any statistics about suicides – the suicide rate amongst people who have been in solitary confinement?
REITER: So this is one of the challenges is that there are often snapshot statistics. We heard great statistics today in response to your questions, but that doesn’t give us much of a sense of what happens over time. So as Ms. Winter mentioned, there was a report in California that showed I don’t remember the exact year, but that 60% to 70% of suicides in the department were taking place in SHUs but that was a one-time report and that’s the kind of data that it would be great to just collect every month, systematically over time and see.
AMMIANO: I think that’s what Senator Hancock and Assemblywoman Skinner were talking about, COMPSTAT, having longitudinal …
REITER: Not just at Pelican Bay but was it in the SHU or general population at Pelican Bay.
AMMIANO: I loathe to refer to Mississippi but what can you do? [Audience laughter] Are there other jurisdictions where there is best practices that California could adopt? Because we’re looking towards maybe legislation coming up.
WINTER: I think you should look at Maine. It’s a small state. Mississippi is a more dramatic example because there was such a large population and there’s a huge gang problem in Mississippi prisons. But Maine, I think, is certainly a state that you should look at. And again, it’s a state where the Department of Corrections voluntarily adopted reforms, and there have been reports written on that and I think that’ll be a very good place to look at.
AMMIANO: What would be some alternatives for individuals who are dangerous to themselves – an alternative to solitary confinement that – are there practices that have happened or situations where that’s occurred?
HANCOCK: He’s asking the answer to that very good question that comes up all the time, talking to members of the public, but what else is there to do, with …? [2h]
AMMIANO: If you truly are dangerous to yourself and maybe it’s not a mental health issue and others, what would be some of the things that …
WINTER: All right, so let’s leave aside mental health because with mental health, you should simply accept that isolation – social isolation – is the worst thing for most people with serious mental illness. For the rest, first of all, be sure by regular review and by looking at the right data that the person is in current and ongoing danger such that you have to protect others, that there has to be physical separation. Once you do that, what you need to do is to provide conditions that allow that person to have a life instead of going around the bend from total sensory deprivation, monotony, and isolation. There should be ways to be able to have congregate activities with others and it depends on the individual. But my goodness, I’ve seen situations where they have people who are considered the worst of the worst but they’re playing checkers together but they’re shackled to the floor. They’re playing games. They are able to talk to each other. Sometimes people can be on the yard together, for example, in parallel yards so that they can communicate with each other. There should be as much as possible things to think about and things to accomplish rather than just having a dead brain by being alone with nobody to talk to, nothing to see. So you have to enhance those opportunities. And then you have to be willing to re-examine this individual’s progress. He might not be the same person in 5 years that he was when he did something terrible that made him seem like a danger to others. You then can incrementally increase the amount of freedom, the amount of possibility for socializing with others.
What there really is no justification for is to say that the only way to be safe is to put this person in a blank room with a steel door, in a room that is the size of a small bathroom. That is not needed for safety.
REITER: One thing if I can add is in interviews, one of the things I’ve heard from former SHU prisoners is that one of the hardest parts is never seeing nature or living things. So people talk about going 10 years without seeing the moon. So really basic things that we take for granted. Like not seeing a bird or an insect. Those kinds of things don’t require any safety compromises to make sure that we treat people more like the human beings everybody is no matter what they’ve done, making sure that they have access to living things and natural light, for instance.
AMMIANO: What I gathered from my visits, just for the sake of argument, is because those of situations for 10 years is just excessive – but “I’m going to punish you in such a way that when you are released, you’ll know that that’s what’s going to happen to you again if you don’t correct that behavior.” But I think the misstep is that behavior is not going to be corrected by that action.
REITER: Well, also to be clear, legally, it shouldn’t be punishment, right? The people that we might need some form of segregation from the rest of the population, the justification should legally be because they’re too dangerous to be in the rest of the population. So it should be about safety of the institution and the community and not about “Can we take away all these rights to make you feel as punished as much as possible” because that’s not what the corrections system – right? The judiciary does that. The corrections system is trying to manage.
AMMIANO: Yeah, yet the line gets blurred, I get it, from being a caretaker to an adjudicator. This is rhetorical – 30 years in solitary confinement? Does that happens in other states?
WINTER: Unfortunately, it does happen. It’s extremely rare. We’ve all heard of the Angola Three. There are a few people around the country who are in solitary for decades.
REITER: California’s 500.
WINTER: Yeah, there are still a few – a handful of people like that in Mississippi but the numbers are always reduced. You know, they are reduced. And it’s – ideally, it should be no one; but I think what we can say positively is that there’s nowhere where it should be in the hundreds, that it just means that there is rote thinking going on – there is not an individualized examination of this person as a human being and taking a look at evidence-based risk factors. When you’re seeing these big numbers, there’s something terribly wrong. It’s extremely, extremely rare – the phenomenon of somebody who really needs to be isolated from other human beings or from nature for that matter.
I just want to underscore how very true that is in hundreds and hundreds of interviews I took with prisoners in solitary, to be in a sterile hell where it’s not only that you are shut off from other people, that you are shut off from bird song, from a blade of grass. That’s profoundly dehumanizing, and people don’t recover from that.
AMMIANO: Could you see us here in California doing away with solitary confinement? Do you think that we would have the political will, the resources and the background? I’m interested in that. [audience]
REITER: To limit this indeterminate – I can see California doing away with indeterminate solitary confinement, certainly, and to drastically reduce the use of segregation to these very small possible numbers. And California’s history demonstrates that’s possible, right? Just to bring us back to …
AMMIANO: Well, the supermax and all that. I mean, that was a very good history for us. I don’t want to steal my colleagues’ thunder, but I’m also concerned about women in the SHU. Are there different studies around that, and in terms of gender issues around solitary confinement – women who are in solitary confinement?
WINTER: That’s so rare in other jurisdictions. It’s extremely rare.
REITER: It’s another California outlier. I’ve only ever heard of one or two women in isolation in other states, so it’s something people in California are interested in but it’s not really …
WINTER: It seems to me that the potential is here. I mean, what I somehow think is possible is that California will go from being the outlier, from being, you know, dragging behind and bringing up the rear to take a big leap forward and go into the vanguard.
There’s a developing nationwide movement. There’s so much information out there. Having seen that these things can happen very quickly when an individual plays a leadership role and is willing to open up their mind and re-examine these beliefs that they have, that are just branded in their brain, open it up and, for example, realize: no, people shouldn’t be in solitary simply because they’re in a gang. That kind of thing. There could be a – not a slow evolutionary process even here but there could be a – it’s possible, with a hearing like this being a good beginning, for there to be rapid change. And there should be because the problem is so staggering in California.
HANCOCK: Assemblywoman Skinner, and then Assemblyman Cooley.
SKINNER: I have tons of questions I could ask, but I think the materials we have in the briefing book and your oral testimony pretty much address a lot of the things. But I wanted to ask you, I asked the Department of Corrections around the women but I didn’t really pursue it because they didn’t give me the reasons why women are in the SHU. I’ve got to assume because I didn’t get it, that it might be the same reasons the men are, so I wondered if you had any info on women in California, is it a gang issue, a violence issue, or what?
REITER: You know, one thing that would be good to know is what’s the breakdown of indeterminate and determinate because if they’re all serving determinate SHU terms, you could guess it’s not gang. I don’t know of gangs being the kind of problem in women’s prisons in California than they are in men’s prison. So my educated guess would be that that’s not it. (2h12m) I have only anecdotally talked to a few women who’ve been in the SHU and usually they’ve talked about being there for determinate terms often for – they said – for retaliation for filing grievances or refusing to work, sort of, you know, getting in challenges with prison administrators.
SKINNER: Right. So potentially the issue of punishment versus because they are a danger to others. Yeah, we have to collect this data.
WINTER: You know, There is no substitute for bringing in independent outside expertise like from the NIC [National Institute of Corrections, http://nicic.gov/%5D, to bring a fresh eye to this. I don’t know if this is doable or not. If you ask the department if they would be willing to sit down with a member or couple members of this committee and, for example, take the women prisoners who are in SHU housing and say, “Let’s go over their records. Let’s explain to us why. And let’s sit down with an independent, outside expert and let’s review it. Let’s see if this is really necessary.” I don’t know if they would accept an invitation like that. But it could be very enlightening and helpful.
HANCOCK: Assemblyman Cooley.
COOLEY: I think that question about outside experts is an interesting one. I wanted to comment, I don’t sit on the Public Safety Committee but obviously this is an issue of great importance to the future of California and I just wanted to have the opportunity to sit in and listen today. … I think the general issue here, and it’s a long-term issue for the State of California, is we don’t really understand any phenomenon until we’ve measured it. That undergirths this conversation. Prisons themselves are remote, it isn’t seen what goes on there, it’s very hard for a lay person to sit on the sidelines and assess what’s going on. I’ve heard, we’ve had the ACA invoked, mentioned, you mentioned some other associations, architectural groups, NIC – it might be interesting to take some of these groups that have a keen interest in this general area and try to get them in a conversation about what is the data we should be capturing? Try to get some outside groups, with this idea that until we measure it we can’t come up with guidance. It is the legislature’s job – you know, Winston Churchill used to say, “experts should be on tap, but never on top.” I think we want to bring in experts, but think about from our own public policy perspective, our oath of office, the state budget and how we reconcile these divergent things, and I would think it would be interesting to get a variety of these groups to bring some expertise and ask them not just to defer to them, what should we be doing, but what is this sort of data that would shed light? And shed light in such a way but so that it would shed light not just on SHUs but on how those populations relate to the general prison population, issues of recidivism, and try to figure out an easier way that we can be more systematic saying, well this is what we need, and start gathering that. That’s not to put off the day of progress, the national perspective vis a vis other jurisdictions and trends elsewhere is very relevant and important to try to assess what we might do. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.
HANCOCK: I would actually agree, I think that’s an excellent suggestion, and possibly if either of you could elaborate on who besides, I assume it’s the National Institute of Corrections, NIC, I know in my reading I’ve come across 3 or 4, the National Correctional Association, the CDCR may have some groups they may like to suggest as well. We can always learn from looking at what other people do, and I think that staff notice, this should be maybe the subject of another hearing, or put together a sit down and confer process that could lead to some changes.
AMMIANO: If I could jump in and speak about the next panel, people who have actually gone through the SHU, families, would be invaluable as to their input. [audience applause, light joking gavel] Another kind of expert.
HANCOCK: I think that’s right. As I hand over the gavel, I want to mention … What are the other alternatives? Which we get asked a lot. And in my reading, there were a number that were mentioned, such as short-term cell confinement in the general population. A kind of – every parent knows – grounding essentially. Or short-term loss of work privileges or program privileges or visitors. But something that would not be as extreme as SHU and would allow people to earn back the places that they had been.
And then the other thing that was mentioned was better training of correctional officers [audience murmur] to defuse situations within prisons, again, in much the way that school teachers are now trained to recognize and defuse potentially violent incidents or bullying incidents in schools. And I wondered if you have any experience with that? And if there are other things we should be looking at as alternatives?
WINTER: I, couple of years ago, recently negotiated a consent decree with the Mississippi Department of Corrections concerning their treatment of youths who are sentenced as adults in Mississippi. And in Mississippi, youths from the age of 13 years old on can be – they’re convicted as adults and were housed with adults. And as part of that decree, solitary confinement was simply prohibited. It was categorically prohibited.
But the sort of things that you suggest, like a brief time-out, is an alternative. An alternative is that these are kids who still are getting schooling so the teacher will come to their cell. They still have the punishment of not being with their classmates, but they’re in-cell – the person coming to them.
In the adult context, when they were getting people out of solitary in the supermax, one important principle that they came up with was that it just can’t be sticks. There has to be carrots. Because what the prisoners kept saying was, “All we can do is lose the little that we have.” And that just throws people into total despair. They came up with a series of rewards, not just punishments but rewards, that people could achieve by being infraction-free. One of those, for example, and this is an extremely poor state, was these little MP3 players, and a prisoner who has been in – and this is a guy who has a really, really bad escape from a maximum security facility and he has been in solitary – one of the few in Mississippi – for decades. I mean, for like 3 decades or something. And he said what an unbelievable difference that makes to, you know, to have music.
So the department actually gives them something – a special meal, additional visits from the family – not just once a week but “Hey, you can have an extra visit this week,” “You can have an extra telephone call with your family.” So there’s all sorts of small rewards that in the context of prison are hugely meaningful. And you can use that system as an alternative to simply cutting everything off to control behavior.
HANCOCK: Thank you. I think we need to know more about what some of the alternatives are that others have come up with, I know we have a time issue, so I’m gonna hand the gavel back to Assemblyman Ammiano. Thank you so much.
AMMIANO: thank you so much. When you have hearings like this there’s always things you’re driving home and think why didn’t I ask that … I think there will be a number of questions from all of us, and one thing I would be interested in is, for the non-mental health identified, what is the use of psychotropic drugs to modulate behavior, because that seems to be an easy way out and maybe practiced more than we think.
REITER: and that’s certainly true.
AMMIANO: All right. Thank you very much. And our next panel is “observations and aftermath: the personal experience and lasting impact of segregated confinement in California prisons.” (2h24m) Now we have a 30 minute limit on this particular panel, I don’t want you to feel confined, that’s about 10 minutes each because we also want an opportunity to hear from the public as much as we can.
FAMILY PANEL: Steven Cfizra, Dolores Canales, Dorsey Nunn
STEVEN CFIZRA, UC Berkeley student formerly incarcerated in SHU, Phoenix Scholars Project of Berkeley:
Before I talk a little bit about my personal experience, I would like to make two brief digressions, I promise they’ll be brief. So I know the panel is filled with highly intelligent and observant people but I would like to suggest that Mr. [Robert] Barton, as providing an accountable and transparent observation of the California Department of Corrections, is – struck me as being somewhat conflict of interest. He was very apologetic and supportive of the CDCR and this is the organization that’s supposed to be holding them accountable is somewhat like the fox guarding the hen house.
I want to make one comment about Professor [Keramet] Reiter’s comment about the re-purposing of the security housing unit, that it was designed for one reason and it’s being used for another today. So I read one of her articles recently, and in it she had interviewed numerous CDC – at the time CDC, there was no R, there was no rehabilitation in the CDC at the time – and she had interviewed numerous CDC officials who planned Pelican Bay and quoted them in her article “Parole, Snitch or Die” as the design and the purpose of Pelican Bay was to break people within 18 months. I would suggest that Pelican Bay is still being used for that purpose but it’s failing in the way that they intended.
And so having said that on the record … I’m sorry I just couldn’t help it [audience laughter].
So I went to – by the time I got to the security housing unit, I had already done 4 years in solitary confinement as a juvenile. And so I was a model inmate in the California Department of Corrections for about 4 years. I was days from parole, and I got in a fistfight with another inmate. And a committee who is responsible for classifying inmates determined that it was orchestrated and I was trying to incite a larger event – a larger race event because the two of us involved were of different races. He was black; I was white. I still am, actually. So I was given a year in the SHU for that. This was after about 4 years of being a model inmate. I was a teacher’s assistant. I taught inmates how to do office work – things like that. It was a fistfight. You know, it happens. It’s a tight, tense situation. “What are you looking at?” “What are you looking at?” We got into a fistfight. So, the very next day, I spit on an officer, who was taunting me in the administrative segregation. For those 2 incidents, I spent 4 years in the SHU and I was given a new felony charge – assault and battery on a peace officer – and another 4 years tacked onto my prison sentence, which I spent in the SHU.
The conditions of the SHU…[breaks up for a moment] Okay, look, I want to say this in the most professional and uh … So the SHU is torture, okay? The SHU is a torture chamber. Okay? It doesn’t serve. When I walked into California’s torture chamber, I was a whole human being. And when I left there, I was deeply fractured human being. Okay? So it’s not helping. Let me put it that way.
My family’s here today [laughs] and I kept my son out of school to come here today. And my son is – he’s just a shining light of what humanity has to offer. And you know what? I don’t attribute that to my time in the SHU. I don’t attribute my presence at the Department of Corrections or at the University of [California at] Berkeley – You know, these things that have happened have happened in spite of the SHU. The California Department of Corrections, when I spit on that officer, they did everything in their power to take my life and to break me and to annihilate my spirit.
I would suggest that we stop asking the California Department of Corrections to govern themselves: that we hold them accountable. Pardon to go to officer [Assemblyman] Cooley … but we don’t need to research anything. We already know – [Audience applause] – We already know without a doubt that long-term solitary confinement is torture.
Right now, somebody is on their way to the CDCR, and they’re going to serve a life sentence. They’re going to serve the rest of their life in prison, and they’re maybe 18 or 19 years old. And right now, as the policy stands, they – heaven forbid they’re Latino and they come from LA – they stand to spend the next 80 years in Pelican Bay. [emotional]
AMMIANO: Thank you sir, very much. Ms. Canales? (2h31m)
DOLORES CANALES, mother of son in Pelican Bay SHU, co-founder of CFASC:
First of all I would like to thank you for having this hearing and for taking the time out …
AMMIANO: I think your mike needs to be moved over toward you …
CANALES: Everybody usually tells me to quiet down, this is such a change [laughter] … OK first of all I would like to thank you for taking the time out and for having this hearing and for understanding our suffering in this struggle.
On August 23rd 2011, Mr. Charles Carbone, his opening statement (before this Assembly) was, “Here we are again, 10 years later” – and I do have to agree with what the gentleman [Mr. Czifra] just said, as far as investigating more data, because I feel that here we will be again, 20 years from now, still searching data, still doing research. That statement has always stayed with me because I think here we are year after year, decade after decade, hearing after hearing, as our loved ones sit in solitary confinement, as if we are still trying to figure out, if solitary confinement is detrimental to their physical and mental well being. We have seen the studies, and the research and suicides. And by the way the last suicide took place August 2013 in the Corcoran solitary confinement housing unit. Michael Billy Sells [audience applause]. We’ve seen the studies and research on suicides. We know that research chimpanzees are protected under federal government law from being housed in solitary confinement. We know that there was a bill passed to protect chickens from conditions of confinement. I have been to Sacramento on numerous occasions and even Washington, DC, in hopes of change, in hopes that my son and thousands of others will one day be exposed to natural sunlight, and in hopes that my son will not be one of the many that has succumb to suicide or insanity, in hopes that someone will listen and demand changes in conditions of confinement for human beings.
I became involved in these efforts to bring about change, after the July 1, 2011 hunger strike. And I honestly believe with all my heart that we would not even having these hearings today if it were not for the efforts of the prisoners in these hunger strikes. But yet they are being disciplined for their efforts. My son once wrote me and said,” I have no doubt this place was designed with the sole intention of driving men mad or to suicide, he said , I know because I’m living it.” [emotional] And as a mother it is a daily struggle to hold on to hope when you realize that CDC has went on for decades to defend their policies, and now even making a beautiful little book [hearing informational packet contained several color pictures of PBSP SHU cells and yard] with colored pictures to describe and to show how pretty the cells are.
So during the recent hunger strike [CDCR spokesperson] Terry Thornton said she does not like to refer to SHU as solitary confinement because they can “talk to one another” and they have a TV and they go out to visiting. Well, as to the prisoners being allowed to speak to one another: At any time a simple act of acknowledging another human being’s existence is subject to disciplinary documentation. And I have here a 115, a Rules Violation Report (RVR) that my son and another prisoner received for simply saying “all right now” (a form of hello) to another prisoner. As for the television, first off, imagine a television being one of your sole sources of companions for 10 to 30 years. But then, and yet, another most recent study, on Health.com – a study followed 8,800 adults with no history of heart disease for more than six years and found: “Watching too much television can make you feel a bit brain-dead.” According to a new study, it might also take years off your life. So, so much for watching television as their companion. And not only that, prisoners are not afforded a television unless the family member can purchase one for them. And as for the visiting, there’s thousands of prisoners who have went decades without getting any visits at all. And I know this because our group, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC), has assisted numerous families in getting up to visit (to Pelican Bay).
Since the July 1st 2011 hunger strike I have done extensive research as to how one ends up in solitary, and contrary to popular belief, there are thousands that spend decades in administrative segregation and SHU because of other prisoners’ statements, and they receive rules violations reports simply on another prisoner’s statement. I brought one example, if anybody would want a folder, I made up folders for examples.
They are being written, Serious Rules Violations Report 115s, for the “promotion of gang activity” with no other source evidence to corroborate with these statements. And what is troubling is that CDC claims these prisoners are housed in SHU because they are “the worst of the worst”; but why is it then, the minute that another prisoner begins making statements and allegations against another prisoner, then he is all of a sudden, credible and to be believed?
AMMIANO: The snitch …
CANALES: I have documentation here to show that the only source items are prisoners’ statements and they are referred to as “confidential informants.” You might be asking why I am bringing all this up, what does all this have to do with the effects of solitary confinement on families?
Because CDC, in severe contradictions when we were trying to put forth the media ban bill, they said they didn’t want any prisoners rising to fame and notoriety. But yet, a very well … debriefer has risen to fame and notoriety at the hands of CDC. Being allowed to write books. Being allowed to publish YouTube videos while serving a life sentence. Being allowed not only to slander the prisoners, but the family members, referring to females as “hood rats” and he is in state custody and these are YouTube videos. And we have to watch that. People read these books, where they’re published, pictures of our loved ones with no shirt, because this is how he’s reaching his fame and notoriety. He’s allowed to travel the country to teach IGI (Investigative Gang Unit), to give them information, and he’s reached fame and notoriety – and that is in contradiction to why CDC did not want to put forth the media [access] bill [which Gov. Brown vetoed in 2012].
So, because I read a letter from a young man I would like to just quote this, and let you know, he’s quoted as saying, Daletha and other mothers here, her son wrote a letter and he said: “The worst part is the absolute state of nothingness, and without a vision the people perish.” Sometimes I feel that same despair, sometimes that same hopelessness, and that same state of nothingness sets in, as nothing really changes. The use of confidential information still continues and the use of long term solitary indefinite confinement still exists.
I do want to say one thing really quick: CDC mentioned that they get two-hour visits in solitary confinement two days a week. (2h38m) Tehachapi only gets one hour, and it’s Saturday or Sunday, so that’s not consistent with the two hours two days a week. And also one more thing, as they were mentioning the prisoners’ rights to the appeal process: They are only allowed to file one appeal every 14 days. And it is within a hierarchy that it’s heard at different levels. So they’re appealing to the same people who are writing them up. The only way to get out of that, after they’ve exhausted all appeal processes from within the system, then it could enter into the courts in litigation, which many prisoners do, but there’s many prisoners that do not know how to follow this process through. There’s many family members who don’t know how to follow this process through. I’ve had my mail returned for promotion of gang activity; it has immediately been rectified, as I’ve called, complained, written letters, filed appeals myself. But if I did not know that, that would be in my son’s file.
And so I just also want to let you know, with the 602 process, when it does reach court litigation, even after court rulings as in the Combrera case where they documented about drawings not being allowed as source items [for gang validation], I have documentation here showing Aztec culture, political forms of expression, are still being used. It’s not the violent behavior that CDC continues to portray and proclaim. Thank you very much.
AMMIANO: Thank you very much. All right, Mr. Nunn.
DORSEY NUNN, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, All of Us or None:
I hope I don’t cry too; it’s been a long life. The first thing I think I need to do is to thank you because this hearing is important. But what is more important to me is that it gave people an opportunity to do something different other than starve themselves to death. So, you’ve already accomplished one task. I don’t know if it’s a temporary delay, but I think it was up to day 60; Bobby Sands [Irish hunger striker] only lived up to 66 days on his hunger strike. So your intervention and your deciding to hold this hearing is probably more important than you can ever imagine. I generally speak without notes, but I think that this matter requires that I wrote it down.
My name is Dorsey Nunn and I am the Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a proud member of All of Us or None. I could also be the first of my kind, a formerly incarcerated person who heads a public interest law office. I paroled on October 22, 1981, and I walked out of the gates of San Quentin committed to the struggle to secure the full restoration of civil and human rights of people like me. I have been engaged in this struggle approximately 34 years. It was something in that incarceration experience that has not allowed me to forget.
Pelican Bay, Corcoran, Calipatria, Tehachapi and other institutions practicing long term solitary confinement are mentally torturing people a little every day, for months, years and sometime decades. It is a place where people are consigned to have their spirits broken and sometime driven to suicide. We have too many prisons and institutions where human rights are being violated and then excused by claims that this severe treatment is reserved for the worst of the worst, as if these people are not human beings. (2h42m) However, the terror is not just for the people experiencing it directly but it has wider implications on prisoners, families and communities in general. Just imagine if they lined a few dozens of people up against the wall for being Black, Women, Gay or membership in a club in San Francisco and law enforcement shot, or even worse, disappeared them. This would be of great concern and this act would be emotionally and mentally torturous if you were a member of the group being needlessly shot or disappeared. It would be hard to imagine the Bay Area and possibly the country not being outraged.
The injustice of long term solitary confinement has had this impact on people incarcerated throughout the state of California. In July 2011, the first day of the hunger strike, there were approximately 6,700 people involve. The next time, in September 2011, there were 12,000 people involved the first day. The first day of the last hunger strike in July of 2013, there were 30,000 people who knew the truth and —refused to take food. [emotional] CDCR attribute this to people being pressure by gangs as opposed to this being a matter of choice, conscience or justice.
CDCR can frame this anyway they want since the media is not being granted open access. However, what CDCR can’t state is that this matter has been resolved satisfactorily. Subjecting people to disciplinary write-ups for peaceful dissent will not stop them from trying to end their torture or from attempting to secure justice. The bottom line is that this generation of prisoners has elected to pursue social change through peaceful means and as a society we should not punish them into choosing other methods to address their grievances.
It is difficult to accept the notion for anyone raised in this country that you could be subject to solitary confinement for decades for mere association or membership in anything. Particularly if you have not been able to determine the people you are forced to live with and determine who makes up your community. It is almost impossible to accept the practice of punishment or having a sentence negatively impacted for no overt act of misbehavior or crime. The notion of earning a sentence reduction is usually considered by anyone accepting [except in?] a plea bargain. To have that contract sanctioned in a state court and later violated by the state prison system is problematic at the least.
I would like to take this opportunity to demand the end to long term solitary confinement.
Visiting prisoners in Pelican Bay made me realize what it meant to be deprived of natural sunlight. I don’t know if you ever watched people skin change color over the course winter months. Now imagine the change in skin tone after decades of being denied sunlight. I do not believe that you can tell that people lose their skin color gradually. However, I must state it was shocking to visit an old friend in Pelican Bay and knew he appeared many shades lighter, and I immediately started wonder about health and the food implications. What seemed like such a frivolous demand for food became much more after the visit. It was in that moment of consciousness that what appeared to be such a trivial pursuit on the part of prisoners became so much more. I forgot what it meant to endure the cold without heat or appropriate clothing, or of earlier demands for a beanie cap was not a matter of a fashion statement but a matter of survival.
As I mentioned earlier I am the Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and I was reluctant to involve myself and my organization in this struggle. I was afraid as a person and I was afraid that my organization would be collapsed. As a formerly incarcerated person I couldn’t pretend that CDCR was anything less than bullies and monsters. I knew based on the books I had read, and having a backbone and my writings, that if I were under the control of CDCR I would be in long term solitary confinement and slated to have my spirits broken. Damn, someone gave me a actual program from George Jackson’s funeral as a wedding present. Such a gift could have resulted in decades of torture if I was still being held as a captive. I am not a gang member, but I feel I need to say this, because I do not want to be put on the secret black list like the witch hunt they conducted looking for communists in earlier periods of time.
In 2011 I had the opportunity to talk to a number of hunger strike representatives and other prisoners in Pelican Bay. I was at the time trying to assess in spite of my fears why should I allow my agency to explore the possibility of litigation. There was one question that I asked that the answer resonated more than any other answer. I asked a number of them, what would they tell young people on the streets of Los Angeles and other places. They told me that they would tell the young people not to follow them there. They talked about false enemies. [emotional] They told me that they were engaged in this undertaking because they didn’t want the other younger people who had the misfortune of being in prison in the future not to be forced to undergo what they are going through. Some of them didn’t expect to ever see the streets again or to mainline but they want to do something better for other people.
It was with a great joy that I lived long enough I see the Agreement to End Hostilities. This document drafted by prisoners in Pelican Bay spoke to the larger goal of ending hostilities between prisoners of different races. Since that time I have spoken to many older formerly incarcerated people — and it is in this document we see something different. We see them recognizing each others’ humanity. We see them playing a different role in encouraging their families to organize across all kind of different lines. I was present in a park in Oakland and saw family members from Southern California there speaking to the need to end long term solitary confinement. I saw people from Northern California at a rally in Southern California. I saw brown family members speaking to black family members and black family members speaking to white family members. I noticed the political landscape changing. I stood with family members and others in front of Corcoran Prison earlier this year. We stood in over 100 degree weather to demand an end to long term solitary confinement. And I witnessed some of the family members fall out in the heat [emotional].
I see the potential that documents like The Agreement to End Hostilities could lend itself to making communities safer throughout the state of California. Such documents like this should be nurtured but if we can’t get past the rhetoric that the people in solitary confinement are the worst of the worst, we may not be able to see any of the positive policies that agreement like this could have for marginalized communities outside of the prison.
Another bottom line, after living under the worst of conditions and circumstances, I was incarcerated throughout the ‘70s, I know at the core that man is good and everybody is worthy of redemption. I was a life prisoner. I am now the executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and I have experienced solitary confinement. And I know what it means not to be touched in any other way but violently or suspiciously for years at a time. At a certain point, we need to do something. So, some of the things that the guys have demanded: they demanded an end to long term solitary confinement. They demanded programs. They demanded access to their families. They demanded some things that just humanly should be available to them. And when I call it torture, and a violation of human rights, under international law you’re not allowed to extract information like that. So debriefing is part of a torturous process recognized in international law.
So if it’s anything that I want to leave this committee with, is I think the guys in Pelican Bay have showed us an example that we should follow in terms of recognizing each other’s humanity. I’m hoping and I’m praying that somebody will recognize their humanity, before they make different choices, because during the 1970s we were making different choices about this stuff.
AMMIANO: Thank you very much. You know, before you step down, you know, the burning question for us, because we want to do the right thing and that means for us working with CDCR too, is: What thought have you given to alternatives to solitary confinement? If you have any thoughts, I’d …
CANALES: Well, one of the thoughts – and I would love to speak with CDC too with some of my thoughts …
AMMIANO: That would be fine, we can arrange all that …
CANALES: OK, some of the thoughts, you know there’s the severe sensory deprivation, the dehumanization. Bringing the aspect of humanity back. I took my grandbabies to go see my son, and they were 3 and 2 years old. And the 3 year-old, JJ, the second day we were being driven in the van, and he kept saying, “Why is he in a box?” And so the second day, he was looking at the tubes behind the prison, and he said, “They put my uncle Johnny in the pipes and they put him in the box.” And I said, “Well, how did they get him in the pipes?” He goes, “They fold him.” Just in that 3 year-old mind, you know, of the cartoon-like, trying to figure this out. But one of the things is, why should he not be able to hug his uncle? The family members, who we represent – why should we not be able to hug our loved ones?
The special needs yard? Visiting is closed once a month for the special needs yard, and that’s where they house the debriefers and the child rapists and pedophiles. And on this yard, they get visiting contact all day – 8 hours – for this yard. So if you can close it down once a weekend for this yard, why can’t you close visiting so that only those in administrative segregation and special housing unit can begin to have some form of implementing contact visits. Implementing human contact. That’s not dealing with the thousands that do not get visits, though, but that’s just like one suggestion that I’ve envisioned because CDC themselves has said that visiting is sacred ground – nothing happens in there. They don’t fight or anything.
CZIFRA: I just wanted to say as a solution that an emergency legislative dictate, or whatever they’re called, that anybody in long-term solitary confinement immediately be granted physical access to their families. So I went all those years without touching anybody, and I’ve been with my partner for over 7 years and it took 5 years before she could touch me without it hurting my skin. So that’s …
And then oversight. A person or a small team of people to work out of Pelican Bay and report to this committee that has nothing to do with the CDC or the Inspector General’s office, that interviews allegations in a responsible and in an accountable way.
Because I wrote 602s when I was in prison. You could write one a week. I wrote one a week for 2 years about the food, and it was laughable. There’s this joke in CDC – it’s called “602 it”,and it’s usually perpetrated by the guards. So if something happens that’s unjust, the guards just say “602 it.” It’s a joke, and this is their administrative remedy, this is their … so … except to say,
Phone calls for anybody in solitary confinement. Phone calls to family members, immediately. And visits.
And get these human beings – we are defined by this idea of human beings. We are a group, and we need people and the one thing that makes us people is other people. So saying that a person is not confined because they’re in a cell with another person who is being confined but they can’t see their child – like this program is ripping communities apart; it’s tearing families apart.
NUNN: My suggestion would be that absolutely do away with long-term solitary confinement. And if you’ve got to place people in that situation, then set a limit – an identifiable limit – 30 days at the max – that they could serve in there. Even when he was designing Pelican Bay, I think the architect only imagined people being there for 18 months let alone decades. And I think probably the longest held person in solitary confinement in California is Hugo Pinell. He’s been there, I think, 42 years and he doesn’t have a murder.
So at a certain point, when I say I know them [CDC] to be the bullies, is once you’ve spit on a guard or you crossed that line, they will wreck havoc in such a way that they terrorize whole populations of people, and I think that it leaves them scarred when they come home.
In addition to everything that’s been suggested, I suggest that the oversight not rest within again, CDCR or the Inspector General. I think that somebody that’s responsible to the Legislature should have oversight of the California Department of Corrections.
And probably here’s one of the strangest requests: is that you all do some reform about who gets to contribute to campaigns. [audience laughter] You know, I don’t mean to step on y’all toes, because some of this stuff is driven by – my inhumanity the way people look at me in part is shaped by probably parallels, the contributions they make to candidates in a real way. So unless you stop the correctional guard association [CCPOA] from making massive donations to a whole bunch of people, I don’t know if I have any salvation. And I suggest that you actually look when you in this crisis and Jerry Brown is getting ready to actually send people out of state and actually introduce private prisons to the state, to see if he’s getting any of that money from private prison makers. So like at a certain point, where y’all are allowed to feed for money could have a lot to do with them not recognizing my humanity.
AMMIANO: OK, I’m going to turn this over to my co-chair now.
HANCOCK: I actually have some questions …
NUNN: I’m still here!
HANCOCK: [laughter] not so fast … you guys are actually talking to some of the public financing crowd here. We’ve tried to do that [laughter] Mr. Cooley hasn’t been here long enough, we’ll talk to you too … I do have a couple of questions, and comments. Ms. Canales, I would be very interested in your research. You said that you’ve looked at some things and had some incidences and case histories? I learn a lot through talking to people and getting case histories.
CANALES: Yes I do. I have actual chronos and documentation showing that these individuals were going to their committee reviews and it was being said, you know, inactive gang status, but yet they continue to be detained because their only way out was if they chose to make statements against another prisoners.
A lot of these prisoners, if they’ve been in there over a decade and if they don’t have phone calls – a lot of them don’t even get visits and their mail is scrutinized — a lot of their argument is “What information could I possibly have to tell you? That, you know, there’s nothing to provide. I’ve been isolated.”
So we have built up quite a collection of these type of documents. I didn’t want to overburden you and bring it all but I would love to fax it to you … [3h]
HANCOCK: We’re committed to this discussion for the long haul at this point. The more data we can have …
CANALES: And even the documentation most recent, they’re still getting the 115 for the drawings. You know, the Aztec art or the books – the political expression and things like that. But these are allowable items into the prison, probably because if they tried to stop it and these prisoners put forth litigation, they would be defeated. So they allow it into the prison, then once it’s in the prison, they do write them up – serious documentation.
HANCOCK: Thank you. I would also like to know how to access the YouTube that you referred to. [audience applause]
CANALES: I think that’s been one of the most .. hardest things, is to see those videos of these prisoners, and making these statements, blanket statements, that he guarantees that all the money on their account is from organized crime … I showed my church group because they help my son a lot. I guaranteed him he could audit my son’s account. And they don’t give us that voice back to him …
NUNN: I have one question before I leave …I don’t think that – there are some of us that meet success. Nobody ever asked us upon the completion of all the torture what made us successful. It was like nobody cared that we somehow endured the gauntlet and came out the other end. They report every piece of failure that they can find to talk about us but nobody pointed to – nobody ever interviewed me at the end of parole and asked for an exit strategy. They didn’t even think about that I was going anywhere. I guess they didn’t have any faith.
The other thing that I would suggest is that in all of these institutions that they introduce ethnic studies, because these people are going to return back to their communities and actually need to live with other folks. And I think that right there could be helpful if they would just introduce something simple like that to make them appreciate other human beings and appreciate their culture and their history.
HANCOCK: Thank you for that. Actually you anticipated a question I was going to have for you and Mr. Czifra. What I ask many of the people that are formerly incarcerated that I talk with is: What made you decide you were going to survive in another way? Was it a person, a book, an experience, whatever? What was it? And what program supported and mattered to you when you got out? Because those are the things that we need to replicate and we need to understand better. You’re exactly right. How do you build on the resilience that some of you had in spite of everything that you had to deal with? So that we can find another path. So I hope very much that we’ll have more conversations and that we can share some of that. I do have a kind of hard question that I do want to ask you.
And that is — I believe I’m stating it accurately but I may not be but I believe I am –That CDCR would say: that there are violent prison gangs and that a number of people in the SHU – possibly 10%, which would be about 250 individuals – are in fact smuggling drugs, hit lists and other things in and out of prison in their body cavities, in code that they may talk with on the phone or whatever. And I am interested in what your experience of that is because if there is – because that is some subset of people that do have to be dealt with seriously if they’re going to hurt other people on the outside.
NUNN: For me, I would care to venture probably a cell phone costs about $500 in prison right now. That’s something that you can’t stick up your rectum. So maybe when you get to the point of really having oversight of the monster, maybe we can actually look at how much contraband is being introduced by staff. Because at a certain point – [audience applause] – it comes across as insulting that a lot of stuff that happen in prison, they immediately look to our family members as if they actually dictate that, and they very seldom look among their own ranks. And I think that the cell phone situation in prison is the clearest example where it’s almost impossible to get it through a metal detector, it’s almost impossible to shove it up your keester, to get it introduced into a prison setting. So I would suggest that you look among the staff in terms of contraband and them controlling markets inside the institutions, for one, and their involvement in that stuff.
For two, when they say that there are violent prison gangs, make them prove it. Because like the statistics that you just heard tonight, a lot of people are in the hole for simply being labeled as a member of the gang. Most people in the hole, they probably haven’t had a behavior infraction in years, but yet they label you in such a way … the first time I ever heard them use the term “the worst of the worst” was associated with the Madrid case. Out of that case, and what was the center of that case I think it was about 20 years ago, was a person who had been driven insane and began to smear feces on himself, and they scalded him damn near to death, his name was Von Durch [emotional] and he was a car thief. So when ya’ll sling the term around, or when they sling the term around – the worst of the worst – somehow you all got to debunk that we’re not human, and they’re not saying that stuff to generate profit and a whole bunch of other stuff. Because the worst of the worst possibly could be people who are profiting on a daily basis off of my misery.
CZIFRA: I wanted to talk about, you talked about what worked. Well, first of all, I had a date. So I had hope. I knew I was getting out. I knew I was going to get out so I had something to work towards. I was – I have done things in my life that are worse than the things the people who are doing life today. A friend of mine … is serving 20 years on a life sentence for stealing a car and so I was getting out and I knew that I was working towards something. But many of these people aren’t getting out – most or many. So, you know, the absence of hope is despair. So what does a person in despair do for themselves, to care for themselves, you know? And how long can you keep that up?
So I think we need to give these people hope. Give them light at the end of the tunnel. Put an absolute cap – 5 years. Fine. Let’s say 5 years. Right? Okay, devil’s advocate, right?, that these people are gang members and they’re doing everything we’re saying they’re doing, right? Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, right wing, you know, nut case rhetoric. Let’s say that’s true. [Audience laughter] We know that it’s not working. It’s still not working. So I mean, what’s happening is indefensible, we’re speaking to stuff that’s indefensible.
And even if everything they’re saying is not true, the CDC admitted recently that they believe that the hunger strike was orchestrated by the people in Pelican Bay as a gang action. How does that support the presence of Pelican Bay? That means we’re spinning our wheels and we’re hurting people in the process. It’s not working and we’re harming people and this program is enfolding many thousands and thousands and thousands of people. Every single one of California’s 30 plus prisons has over 200 people in solitary confinement plus the 4,000 plus thousands we talked about. They’re in the tens of thousands. Every single one of California’s 30
– every one of these facilities has a long-term solitary confinement and it doesn’t work. Sorry.
CANALES: Another thing I’d like to address – if these prisoners before entering the prison, they had a drug problem, maybe they go in for a carjacking or burglary or whatever theft charges, and they enter our prison system. And then the prison system says these are gang affiliates, gang members involved in gang activity and this is all going within the prison. Isn’t it time to start asking ourselves – are so many jails and prisons really the solution if this all seems to be taking place within the prison system? I know it’s such a bigger picture, and I know it’s way past the solitary confinement issue, but there’s a lot that goes on inside just with the automatic labeling of what city they go into the prison from. If they get off of a bus from the Orange County jail, they will immediately be labeled a Southern Hispanic. The same thing if they get off of a bus from Visalia, they will immediately be labeled a northern. You know, that’s the whole system and the way it goes.
I did a presentation with one guy and he said he kept telling them, “I’m just a white guy from the beach with a drug problem.” [Audience laughter] So they intentionally said, “Go in that cell” and it was full of blacks. This was before the end all hostilities. So then he did go in the white cell. But a lot of it has to go – it starts from the minute you enter the prison system.
NUNN: I got to tell you one other thing. My daughter – I made a couple of promises when I was in prison. One day I would walk my daughter down the aisle when she got ready to get married. So I guess the thing I think is the most under-utilized resource that you have is probably all those people out there. [family] My family pulled me through. When I didn’t have any hope, my family pulled me through. [Audience applause]
So I need to say if there’s anything that I can actually have to offer – it was like, I used to tell my daughter that I was in San Quentin that I was in Disneyland because y’all painted it all those weird colors. [Laughter] And one day she came and told me after she learned how to read, that I was in prison. Then I started promising her and that promise right there took me through from being an illiterate through college and it took me out the gates until I was able to walk my daughter down the aisle. So I guess the strongest remedy to a lot of stuff they did to me was love, because that got me through. The hatred, the tear gas, the beatings, getting shot, and being poisoned didn’t do anything but piss me off.
HANCOCK: Well, thank you for that [laughter] – no, really, really, we appreciate the candid comments from everybody. I would like from CDCR some more information about having disciplinary actions for the hunger strikers. That appears – it’s something, I think, legislators are going to want to know more about because it’s an odd thing. And it usually – in other instances where I’ve seen things like that, it has led to increased hostilities, not to better understanding. And also the business of debriefing. It seems to me that’s a strange concept. We need to really – if it becomes a condition for getting out of the SHU, there’s so many opportunities for corruption in that kind of testimony – that we need to look at it [applause] … one of our rules is silence in the courtroom [laughter] One thing is, I do think we need to look at the authority and training of our correctional staff because one of the things that’s most – we didn’t ever talk about the impact on the guards – the absolute power they may have over incarcerated people. And the, unfortunate – when the lack of an outside advisor when you’re going through these hearings that put you in SHU. And I think our experience throughout history with many, many populations in many, many places is that absolute power over other people tends to corrupt. And it corrupts some legislators – they get arrogant. It corrupts people in bureaucracies sometimes that don’t give people a fair hearing. It corrupts people in many, many ways. And how do we train and work with the correctional staff and how we make sure there are many checks and balances that our Constitution gives people other ways.
It seems to me that we could work together to do this, and that all of this, I want to assure you is going to be on the agenda for the coming months. We have just begun to do our work. And we want to end up, as many people have said, with a prison system that is the best and most rehabilitative in the nation. And we’re going to have quite a way to go to get there and we’re gonna need all of us working together to get there.
We are going to have a period for public comment for people who have anything they want to add. We would ask you to come up to the microphone, please not to speak for more than a minute…try not to repeat what other people have said.
SKINNER: I may have to leave before the public comment and I apologize. We had heard some testimony that some other states have made changes, and in the material I just looked at briefly, I know that Illinois made some changes, Mississippi did, so some states have made changes, and we could certainly learn from them to make some revisions ourselves. And in addition to our public Safety Committee doing these hearings, clearly the Budget Committees of our two houses will in addition to that. The Speaker of the State Assembly [Perez] , just announced the formation of a committee in the Assembly to deal with the recidivism issue. But clearly if we want to have the proper funds to properly fund programs and activities that are going to fund recidivism, we need to cut down our Corrections costs, and it was clearly noted to me that there is quite a larger cost to [house] prisoners in the SHU than to people in the other non-SHU facility. And it is certainly something we should be striving to reduce, and to be able to free up additional funds to be able to address these recidivism issues.
HANCOCK: Please tell us who you are …
PUBLIC COMMENTS [abridged]: [3h19m]
Commenter #1 (male, Los Angeles): My name is Keith James and I’m from Revolution Books in LA and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network … It took about an hour and 50 minutes for the word ‘torture’ to come out in this hearing … These torture chambers are meant to drive people crazy, so this is not a debate whether there is solitary confinement, which was brought up by Jeffrey Beard … no, this is torture, and torture is illegal. It’s immoral, and it is unequivocably unacceptable under any conditions. And in California there are 10,000 people being tortured right now. This has got to be over … Another thing revealed in this hunger strike is actually who are the actual criminals, OK? This system is a criminal system. It’s totally illegitimate and it needs to be swept off the face of the Earth. Any system that relies upon torture has no reason and has no right to exist.
AMMIANO: Well said sir, I’m gonna interrupt you, we got a long line [of families behind you] … [speaker continues, Ammiano asks twice more to close] … the gentleman was very eloquent but could I ask the rest of you, we’ve all been here a long time, and we do want to have further conversations with everyone, so if you could just keep it brief, please, thank you.
Commenter #2 (female): My name is Amber and my brother is in the Pelican Bay SHU…I beg of you to please don’t fall for what CDC and the Inspector General have said. Go by their actions. In their actions, no real significant change has been made. I read a few days ago that Pelican Bay SHU is now allowed cake with icing and cinnamon buns. I haven’t been fighting this fight for my brother and human rights for the past two years for my brother to receive a cupcake.
Commenter #3 (female): I’ll keep it brief, I’d like to thank you as well, the Committee. I just want to mention two things, one about the debriefer: In a court of law when an inmate is used to testify against someone else, they don’t – one of the questions a prosecutor will ask is “Have you been paid or given anything for this testimony?” And they usually respond by saying, “No. I haven’t.” That’s because it would be considered tainted – his testimony. But as a debriefer, they can tell or say whatever they want without anything substantial to back that up, and they will take it and run with that and keep somebody in solitary confinement for 7 years.
Commenter #4 (female): Thank you Committee for having this hearing today. I just wanted to say that my brother has been in Pelican Bay for 23 years in the SHU. In solitary confinement for 23 years. And I don’t know how long more he can take it. He is at the end of his rope [crying]. He’s not my brother anymore, and I just wish, Senator, if you could just meet with Dolores she could give you the papers so you could see, back up our loved ones so you could see the lies they [CDC] are telling about our loved ones … thank you.
Commenter #5 (female): My name is Lupe, I have a son and he just went into the SHU. They gave him a 3-year sentence, and you know, he was always like very uplifting because I was able to visit him in a closer prison like Tehachapi. I’m from Los Angeles. And now it’s like – it’s impossible to go to Pelican Bay. And the last letter he wrote to me, it seems like he’s breaking down. You know how they say that it’s like the SHU is made to break them down, but I have faith, but I know because of [CFASC] there are programs that can help me go up there. Just please do what you can to humanize my son.
Commenter #6 (female): My brother told me: “You asked me to draw my dreams. My dreams. I think dreams right now is not a good idea. I know you will say not to do that but it’s hard in this place. CDC is not only stealing our life but they even steal the color of life.” I was gonna ask CDC to stay so they can hear our feelings that we have for our brothers or sons or families, but for CDC once again proved they don’t care about our loved ones. Solitary confinement is torture.
Commenter #7 (female): I want to thank you for giving us hope because most of the time we don’t have any. My husband has been in Pelican Bay SHU for 19 years, and if something isn’t done right away – even though he’s a youngster compared to my other friends – he could be there for a lot longer.
He asked me to ask you “Who benefits from the status quo? Who benefits from the lack of education and rehabilitation? Who benefits from the fact that it doesn’t matter how much these men have improved themselves, how much they’ve changed, it doesn’t matter in their review? That’s just eliminated.” Senator Hancock, I want to tell you that I have a lot of research, everyone who knows me knows that I’m a research diva, I will provide any and everything that you want to know, the reps already prepared a document last March  with all their alternatives. Secretary Beard in his confirmation hearing said that there was $25 million surplus in rehabilitation funds. We’d like to see that money going the SHUs. The Inmate Welfare Fund is also available. There’s an $11 million discrepancy in the last state audit and I’d like you to look at that. And thank you so much.
Commenter #8 (male): … The extent to which the SHU does exist, to the extent that one cannot show a nexus between its existence and a good outcome, it should be eliminated…
Commenter #9 (female): My name is Marie Levin, and my brother is housed in the security housing unit…Sen. Hancock asked about how did they survive? My brother has survived in the SHU because of his hopes to get out and be with his family, his hopes to be free. He’s incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. First crime, going into prison. Second crime is being labeled a gang member by reading a George Jackson book.
Commenter #10 (male): My name is Randy Levin. My brother-in-law – this is my wife – Sitawa – he’s been in Pelican Bay SHU for 29 years. And I guess what’s really in my heart is I would really challenge you folks to go up there and make time with some of these guys, like my brother-in-law, that have been in there for a long time and they’re so – well, I’ll say this: The first time I talked with my brother-in-law was in 2011, and the first words out of my mouth was “I’m so proud of you for keeping your sanity.” Not only has he kept his sanity, he’s thought through things. He has compassion. He’s thoughtful. And I would really just challenge you to go up and meet with some of these guys.
Commenter #11 (female): …I have a son who is in the SHU. He has been in the SHU for 16 years. My son has never committed a violent crime in his life and up to this day he still hasn’t. He was affiliated with a gang member only by a cousin who was validated, and because they exchanged a birthday card, he was validated that time and put in the SHU. But he was on the hunger strike this time and he told me that if he had to die, he would die for the cause of human dignity and rightness…
Commenter #12 (male): …I served SHU time myself. You know, it’s – the validation for one – you know, you’re put in the SHU. I was there for AG charge. And just being – up above me was a validated gang member, and just for associating with him, they wanted to validate me. I mean, come on, CDC puts us together and they wanted to validate me because I’m talking to him. You know? We’ve got to communicate with somebody, you know, and it’s just wrong.
And another thing too about – you guys need to really look into the COs. They’ve got a big black market going on there. Big, big time.
Commenter #13 (female): …I’m with the California Statewide Coalition Against Police Brutality and care very much about this issue. And I’m also a voter. What I want to say is that what is happening inside of these prisons with the correctional officers is police brutality, and it’s state-sanctioned police brutality.
And the people in the state of California aren’t going to put up with it anymore. I think it’s very disrespectful that many CDCR representatives left when the families started to talk, and I think that it goes to show their unwillingness to really come up with a solution and sit at the table with us who are being affected by this.
Like that gentleman said, correctional officers – where this is going to end is when we start holding people accountable, including correctional and peace officers for committing crimes such as bringing contraband and doing illegal acts such as setting people up for fights or all the other illegal things that are happening in there. When we hold these people accountable, then and only then will we see change. The last thing I want to say is that CDCR has, first of all, no rehabilitation whatsoever and so I don’t know why we changed the name…CDCR they will continue to do this and they will continue to use these excuses of gangs until you stop them.
Commenter #14 (female): …My son is in Tehachapi in solitary confinement. And the one thing I would like to say – thank you, for one, for having this. But I really want to see some true – not more meetings, meetings, and meetings – but meetings with some substance of getting these people out of solitary confinement and making true changes. …We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. There’s a lot of stuff that’s really already out there…Give these guys some hope. They’re smart people. They’ve made mistakes and they want to do better. So we just need to recognize that.
Commenter #15 (female): …A lot of people are in prison for crimes of poverty and because of the war on gangs and the war on crimes and the war on drugs. And then a lot of people go into the SHU because of their political beliefs or they’re jailhouse lawyers or prison rights activists. These guys have been studying freedom fighters like Bobby Sands, like Nelson Mandela and they model their hunger strike after people the world considers the greatest fighters for human rights. So I think that their agreement to end hostilities is something we need to learn from on the outside and they can teach us. They can teach us a lot. We need to give them the access to their families, access to their communities.
Commenter #16 (female): I’m Carol Strickman. I’m staff attorney at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a member of the Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. And we have a number of legislative ideas to share with you, and I just want to bring up one right now and that has to do with reinstating good time credit for prisoners who are in the SHU not for committing an offense but for gang validation reasons. We’ve brought that up for 2 years now; it’s been very difficult although it will save money, it will get people out of the SHU. It should be endorsed and we’d love to see some help with that.
Commenter #17 (female): My name is Nancy, and I’m a psychologist and do prison visits for California Prison Focus and the coalition. And I’ve asked the men, “How do you maintain your humanity under inhumane conditions?” And they consistently say, “I keep myself impeccable and my cell impeccable. I work out. I read, write, teach others, speak. I do some sort of practice – a meditative or religious practice – or I pray. And if I’m lucky, I have family and friends that visit me, that keeps me whole that they love me.” And they have meaning in their lives. Many of them say, “I don’t expect to ever get out. I’m doing this for my younger brothers. I don’t want them to be here.”
Commenter #18 (female): My name is Kim and I do legal visits on behalf of California Prison Focus and the coalition. And just to address a few things: Mr. Cooley, I don’t think we need more studies. I’m going to agree with Steve on that. The information is here. To echo some of the things I’ve heard from people inside that we’re even having this discussion is insane.
Standards are meaningless within the CDC from what I can tell. And yes, the rules do change and they change mid-game and the people inside are the last to know about it. It’s quite frequently. For example, around family visits, all of a sudden people are having family members come up – after making an appointment, come 500 miles and then be turned away on the basis of they don’t have an appointment or their family member sends a form to their loved one, the loved one gives that to the visiting area, which was done for a long time. Suddenly, that doesn’t fly either.
Commenter #19 (female): My name is Gloria and I have a brother in the SHU…I’ve traveled the 4 hours – thank God it’s not 8 or 9 – and I went for my appointment with even a confirmation number and they have turned me away – me and my mother, who is disabled. And I have to drive back home without seeing my brother. On the first panel, Mr. Michael Stainer was saying that they report on how they discipline their inmates. My brother was caught with a cell phone. You know, like most of them get them from the staff there. The Sergeant was so upset with him that after he gave him a 6-month SHU term and he finished that, he threw him out with guards, emptied two cans of pepper spray to the floor – wet, burning, soaking, could not breathe – he’s asthmatic – and handcuffed on the floor. They do not report everything about how they discipline them.
Commenter #20 (female): …I have a statement from [SHU inmate] from a letter. He said, “The health care department could actually end the torture tomorrow. The people who run the health care system absolutely know of the significant contribution that isolation makes to the physical and psychological deterioration of people who are subjected to it. All it takes is for the health care policymakers to have courage and to stop allowing itself to be subordinate to custody. It really is shameful politics and money. Each body in each cell represents a lot of money. Each body in each cell that is prescribed medication even more. There is no incentive to heal when you are rewarded for doing nothing.” Thank you.
Commenter #21 (male): I’m J.P. I think this entire discussion is insane. I’m confident that 150 years from now, we will look back – the people who are living will look back and they will shake their heads and go, “How on Earth could they ever have treated human beings like this? How could they possibly have allowed this?” So I simply ask you to think about that and whether you want to be part of the solution to the problem or whether you want to have people look back and say, “Yes, you allowed this to continue. You allowed this torture, this horrible horrible treatment of human beings to continue.”
Commenter #22 (female): …My son is in High Desert prison and it’s taken me almost 11 hours to drive over there. You know, I depend on a ride. And that prison is always in lockdown. Lockdown, you know? Not for a month. More than a year. And sometimes I have to ask for a ride to see him through the glass for one hour. It costs me sometimes almost $200 or $300 to go there.
CANALES [3h52m]: I’d like to close with this letter from Lisa…she has two brothers in the SHU. Their mother would be here today but she passed away last year. “I take at least 6 trips a year. I lose about $200 per day off, plus the kids have to take at least Friday off of school and be super tired from the long drive on Monday. I also have several physical problems which prevents me from driving more than 2 hours but even sitting in the car for the whole trip makes me be in so much pain. I’m not supposed to sit for more than a half hour so it really takes its toll on my body. With that being said, I have to beg someone to come with me to help drive, which is a pain every time. I hate bothering people to come with me and waste their weekend. But the fact is I won’t see them if I don’t. They sure knew what they were doing when they built Pelican Bay all the way in such a remote location. If they were closer, doing time would be so much easier for them and for us family members. We could visit every weekend or every other weekend, and friends would visit too if it wasn’t an 8-hour drive. Right now, no friends or other relatives visit because of the long distance. They are even more in solitary being all the way out there, especially with no phone. It breaks my heart that nieces and nephews say they don’t really know their fathers. It shouldn’t have to be like this for so many families. I have two brothers in SHU so most of this is doubled. To make it easier, the amounts below are for one inmate – estimated total of $8,000 a year per each inmate in visiting costs.” Thank you.
CLOSING REMARKS FROM AMMIANO: Thank you. I want to thank everyone for your patience, for your edification. As Senator Hancock said, we’re in this for the long haul. We do want solutions, and we do also want to reach out to other people who have some decision-making power here, and let them know what you conveyed to us today. This meeting was televised, so it would be possible for us to secure a tape if that’s what’s needed, if you wanted to show this to other people, particularly the public testimony. I know it’s a little frustrating because we don’t want to be rude and cut you off etc., we do have time constraints.
But again, this won’t be the only time we’ll be talking to you. And definitely we would hope to get some legislation out of the facts that we’ve heard today. [3h54m]
1In Re Medley, 134 US 160, 168