Summary of Ashker v. Governor of California

Summary of Ashker v. Governor of California

Settlement Terms

[from: CCR website]

When Ashker v. Governor was first filed as a class action in 2012, thousands of prisoners across the state of California languished in prolonged solitary confinement in Security Housing Units (SHU). At Pelican Bay State Prison alone, more than 500 prisoners had been held in the SHU for over 10 years, and 78 prisoners had been there for more than 20 years. They were warehoused in cramped, windowless concrete cells for almost 24 hours a day with no phone calls, infrequent visits through plexiglass preventing physical contact, meager rehabilitative opportunities, and no opportunity for normal social interaction with other prisoners. Their indefinite and prolonged confinement in this torturous isolation was based not on any actual misconduct but on vague and tenuous allegations of affiliation with a gang. Prisoners were routinely placed in prolonged solitary confinement for simply appearing on a list of gang members found in another prisoner’s cell, or possessing allegedly gangrelated artwork and tattoos.

In 2015, the plaintiffs agreed to a far-reaching settlement that fundamentally alters all aspects of this cruel and unconstitutional regime. The agreement will dramatically reduce the current solitary confinement population and should have a lasting impact on the population going forward; end the practice of isolating prisoners who have not violated prison rules; cap the length of time a prisoner can spend in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay; and provide a restrictive but not isolating alternative for the minority of prisoners who continue to violate prison rules on behalf of a gang.

1. The settlement transforms California’s use of solitary confinement from a status-based system to a behavior-based system.

Under California’s old regime, prisoners identified as gang affiliates were sent to SHU for an indefinite term based merely on their gang affiliation, regardless of whether they had ever violated a prison rule. The settlement transforms California’s use of solitary confinement from a status-based system to a behavior-based system: from now on, California will only send gang-validated prisoners to SHU if they are found guilty, at a hearing, of a serious “SHU-eligible” rule violation. These violations are now limited to the same violations that send non-gang-validated prisoners to the SHU: murder, violence against persons, threats to kill or assault, weapons possession, distribution of controlled substances, escape, disturbance, riot or strike, harassment, gang activity that leads to a serious rule violation, serious theft or destruction of property, extortion or bribery, certain sexual misconduct, and related attempts or conspiracy.

2. Validated gang affiliates who are found guilty of a SHU-eligible offense will enter a quicker two-year SHU step-down program for return to general population after serving their determinate SHU term.

Prisoners validated as gang affiliates in California used to face indefinite SHU confinement, with a review for possible release to general population only once every six years. Even when such reviews occurred, a single piece of evidence of alleged continued gang affiliation led to another six years of solitary confinement. That evidence was often as problematic as the original evidence used to send them to SHU – for example, a book, a poem, or a tattoo that was deemed to be gang-related. As a result, California held more people in solitary confinement, for longer periods of time, than any other state in the country.

Under the settlement, California will no longer impose indeterminate SHU sentences. Instead, after serving a determinate sentence for a SHU-eligible offense, validated gang affiliates whose offense was proven to be related to gang activities will be transferred to a two-year, four-step program. Prisoners will definitely be released to a general population prison setting after two years unless they commit another SHU-eligible offense while in the step-down program. While conditions at the steps remain harsh, prisoners will be allowed some telephone calls and rehabilitative programming at each step.

This new step-down program improves upon interim reforms unilaterally promulgated by the state after the Ashker complaint was filed. It cuts in half the time in the program from four to two years; provides increased phone calls, other privileges, and out-of-cell programming in the steps; and eliminates prisoners being kept in the SHU for either minor infractions or failure to engage in required behavioral programming.

Under this settlement, those prisoners who have refused to participate in step-down programming, or who have been found guilty of numerous acts of misconduct that don’t rise to the level of a SHU-eligible offense, will be transferred to a new unit established as an alternative to solitary: a Restricted Custody General Population Unit (RCGP). In this unit, described below, they will have the opportunity to complete the step-down program in a high-security but non-solitary unit, and earn release into general population.

3. California will review all current gang-validated SHU prisoners within one year to determine whether they should be released from solitary under the settlement terms. It is estimated by CDCR that the vast majority of such prisoners will be released to general population. In addition, virtually all of those prisoners who have spent more than 10 years in solitary will be immediately released to a general-population setting, even if they have committed recent serious misconduct.

The settlement requires speedy review of all prisoners currently held in a California SHU based on gang affiliation. With very limited exceptions, described below, those who have not been found guilty of a SHUeligible offense within the last two years will be immediately released to a general-population unit. Those with a recent SHU-eligible offense will be placed at the appropriate step of the step-down program, based on the date of the rule violation. It is currently estimated that only a small minority of those currently held in a SHU based on gang affiliation have a recent SHU-eligible offense, so that the overwhelming majority of prisoners should be released into general population under this settlement.

In addition, California has implicitly recognized the harm to prisoners from very prolonged solitary confinement by agreeing that those prisoners who have already spent 10 or more continuous years in the SHU will generally be immediately released from the SHU and placed in the RCGP to complete the step-down program – even if they have been found guilty of, or are still serving a sentence for, a recent gang-related SHU offense. Nor will anyone be involuntarily held in the Pelican Bay SHU for longer than five years for any reason. Even those prisoners who have been incarcerated in the SHU for more than 10 years and are currently serving a determinate SHU sentence for serious misconduct will be released to the RCGP to complete their SHU sentence and the step-down program unless California can show by a preponderance of the evidence that to do so would pose an unreasonable security risk.

4. California will create a new Restricted Custody General Population Unit (RCGP) as a secure alternative to solitary confinement.

The RCGP is a general-population unit designed to facilitate positive and meaningful social interactions for prisoners about whom California has serious security concerns, such that they would otherwise be placed in solitary confinement. As such, it may serve as a model for jurisdictions seeking to do away with solitary confinement altogether, while still ensuring prison security.

As part of a general-population unit, RCGP prisoners will be allowed to move around the unit without restraints, will be afforded as much out-of-cell time as other general-population prisoners, and will be able to receive contact visits. As a very high-security, restrictive-custody unit, its group activities will generally be in small groups, instead of large yards. For example, RCGP prisoners will have access to educational courses, a small-group recreation yard, small-group leisure activities and programming, some job opportunities and phone calls. Programming will be designed to provide increased opportunities for positive social interaction with both other prisoners and staff.

Three categories of prisoners will be sent to the RCGP: first, those who repeatedly violate prison rules while in the step-down program or refuse to take part in step-down programming; second, those who have spent over 10 continuous years in some form of solitary confinement and have recently committed a SHU-eligible offense; and third, prisoners against whom there is a substantial threat to their personal safety that limits their ability to be released into other general-population units.

5. Very prolonged solitary confinement will be severely limited and those confined provided significantly more out-of-cell time.

Because this settlement ends the prior practice of indeterminate SHU sentences for validated prisoners, generally prisoners will not be kept in the SHU for more than 10 continuous years, with a limited exception, called Administrative SHU. The settlement limits and ameliorates such prolonged solitary confinement by (a) setting up strict criteria for its use, (b) requiring increased out-of-cell time, and (c) providing for strong judicial review of its use. For example, where the Departmental Review Board has overwhelming evidence that a prisoner who has already served a SHU term presents an immediate threat such that he cannot be placed in general population, he can be kept in the SHU. Even in such instances, CDCR shall provide enhanced out-of-cell recreation and programming of a combined total of 20 hours per week, double the out-of-cell time of other SHU prisoners. During the agreement, CDCR’s decision is subject to review by Magistrate Judge Vadas, who is monitoring implementation of the settlement with plaintiffs’ counsel. The agreement states that CDCR’s expectation is that only a small number of prisoners will be retained in Administrative SHU. The Administrative SHU prisoners will have 180-day reviews in which staff will be required to identify efforts to move the prisoner to a less restrictive environment with the assumption being that these prisoners would be candidates to be moved to the RCGP. In addition, no prisoner may be held involuntarily at Pelican Bay SHU for more than 5 years.

6. Prisoner representatives will work with plaintiffs’ counsel and the magistrate judge to monitor implementation of the settlement.

The struggle to reform California’s use of solitary confinement has always been a prisoner-led movement. Indeed, the settlement was negotiated with the active participation of the prisoner representatives, who met as a group several times with counsel via conference phone calls, and who ultimately decided as a group to ratify the agreement. Under this settlement, prisoner representatives will retain their hard-won seat at the table to regularly meet with California prison officials to review the progress of the settlement, discuss programming and step-down program improvements, and monitor prison conditions. Plaintiffs’ counsel will receive regular documentation of all administrative-SHU and step-down placements, progress, and SHU-eligible rule violations. Along with Magistrate Judge Vadas, plaintiffs’ counsel will monitor all aspects of the settlement implementation. Magistrate Judge Vadas will be empowered to review and remedy any individual or systemic violations of the agreement. In addition, the settlement continues the ability of the prisoner representatives from around the state to confer as a group in a conference call with counsel to discuss the implementation and monitoring of the agreement.

The settlement also requires re-training of California correctional staff, and prohibits any retaliation for prisoners’ past and future involvement in the litigation or settlement monitoring.

The monitoring process under the settlement will be in effect for 24 months, with the opportunity to seek additional 12-month extensions upon a showing of continuing constitutional violations.

Prisoner Human Rights Movement: Agreement to End Hostilities has changed the face of race relations without any help from CDCr

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

In: SF Bay View, Jan. 28. 2015

It is incumbent upon all men prisoners across the state of California and globally to embrace the struggle of women prisoners as a whole. We, the four principle negotiators of our Prisoner Human Rights Movement – George Franco, Arturo Castellanos, Todd Ashker and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry) – recognize the women prisoner struggles and the PHRM supports them. These other prisoner activists do as well: D. Troxell, L. Powell, A. Guillen, G. Huerta, P. Redd, R. Yandell, J.M. Perez, J. Baridi Williamson, A. Sandoval, P. Fortman, Y. Iyapo-I (Alexander), A. Yrigollen, F. Bermudez, F. Clement and R. Chavo Perez.

“The Agreement to End Hostilities” – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP SHU D7-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

“The Agreement to End Hostilities” – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP SHU D7-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

These representatives, whom CDCr leading officials recognize as prisoner activists, are changing the face of race relationships within CDCr first, without any assistance from CDCr. Isn’t that amazing! The above named prisoner activists, along with the thousands of other prisoner activists throughout the California prison system, have changed the way prisoners should be treated as human beings.

I encourage all men and women prisoners to continue to press onward with our Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH) through all corridors of state and county facilities.

Prisoners’ era of retrospective study and constructive struggle

We are beacons of collective building while clearly understanding that we the beacons must take a protracted internal and external retrospective of our present day prisons’ concrete conditions to forge our PHRM onward into the next stage of development, thereby exposing CDCr’s racial discrimination and racist animus tactics against our prisoner class. This is why our lives must be embedded in determined human rights laws, based on our constructive development of our scientific methods and laws. Therefore, through our concrete conditions in each prison, our struggle shall be constructed through our Prisoner Human Rights Movement representatives and negotiators.

The PHRM has realized that CDCr has been setting up prisoners and creating racial tension among all racial groups, from various geographical locations up and down the state of California. It has become abundantly clear to the PHRM that Gov. Jerry Brown is an outspoken racist and overseer who has clearly shown that his discriminatory practices are directed at minorities and people of color: New Afrikan (Afrikan Amerikan), Mexicans (Latinos) and White working poor, who have all been suffering blatant discrimination in county jails and state prisons.

Gov. Brown went out and hired the most blatant racist prison superintendent in the U.S. as his secretary of corrections. Yes, CDCr Secretary Jeffrey Beard is continuing to torture, isolate, maim, racially assault, and racially, religiously and culturally discriminate against prisoners.

Gov. Brown and Secretary Beard are continuing their practices of long term solitary confinement. Now, it is a known fact that Gov. Brown and his personally appointed CDCr Secretary J. Beard do not want to STOP racial tension within the CDCr or the state of California as a whole, because if they did, the historical document, the Agreement to End Hostilities, would have been distributed by the CDCr to all women and men state prisoners, county jail prisoners, youth authority prisoners, juveniles, probationers and parolees throughout this state.

The Youth Justice League brought the Agreement to End Hostilities to the hood on the day it took effect, Oct. 10, 2012, at a rally in front of the LA County Jail. – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez

The Youth Justice League brought the Agreement to End Hostilities to the hood on the day it took effect, Oct. 10, 2012, at a rally in front of the LA County Jail. – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez

Since Oct. 10, 2012, when the Agreement to End Hostilities took effect, to the present day, California women and men prisoners’ racial and cultural hostilities have decreased, without any assistance from Gov. Brown or his subordinate, Secretary of CDCr Jeffrey Beard. It is important that all citizens here in California and throughout the United States realize that Gov. Brown and Secretary Beard do not care about reducing the violence among prisoners, nor do they care about the safety and security of Californians who are not incarcerated.

Our civil rights are violated daily. We citizens realize that the safety and security of California prisoners and our neighborhoods throughout California will only come from the people, not from corrupt law enforcement agencies! Because we know that the majority of California law enforcement policies have been brutal to our inner city citizens – killing and maiming our family members – and that the brutality has been sanctioned by Gov. Brown and carried out by CDCr Secretary Beard et al behind California prison walls against all prisoners and especially Level 3 and 4 prisoners.

CEASE the human torture! CEASE the racial profiling, Gov. Brown and Secretary Beard!

I want everyone to know that I agree with my co-principle negotiators’ articles in the October 2014 SF Bay View newspaper: 1) “California prisoner representatives: All people have the right to humane treatment with dignity” on page 5 and 2) “Unresolved hunger strike issues” on page 16. I want to encourage everyone to subscribe to this newspaper. It is the voice of all people!

To all U.S. citizens and the world community, support our Prisoner Human Rights Movement!

We are fighting for human justice. We are upholding the U.S. Constitution and California Constitution and the liberties therein, while establishing the freedoms that our ancestors struggled for over the past hundred years in California.

Determined to preserve our human lives and those of all prisoners within the state of California, we, the Prisoner Human Rights Movement, call on all citizens to get involved with social change now. In the course of our work, PHRM realizes that it is natural that we should meet opposition from CDCr, because of their ignorance and lack of knowledge manifested whenever CDCr ruthlessly deceives and deprives prisoners of our human rights and civil rights daily.

With the dawn of this new prison era, the Prisoners’ Era of Retrospect and Construct, know what its essentials are; know its principles and strive to attain our goals and objectives in the truest sense of our Agreement to End Hostilities. We know what forced solitude causes: psychological and physical warfare, for prisoners and their outside family members as well.

Politically speaking, the world has changed and so have prisoners. Human progress means change, and today we need to prepare for a higher life, for tomorrow’s liberty – educationally, socially and politically.

Determined to preserve our human lives and those of all prisoners within the state of California, we, the Prisoner Human Rights Movement, call on all citizens to get involved with social change now.

No one wants to be tortured, dehumanized, racially profiled, religiously profiled and viciously targeted by acts of sensory deprivation by Gov. Jerry Brown’s state government and his California prison officials to implement the New Jim Crow, i.e., the Security Threat Group/Step Down Program (STG/SDP), which is actually criminal acts of torture by way of low intensity warfare. This is an act against all California citizens and humanity itself.

Our PHRM was threatened by CDCr officials and employees as we championed the cause of the Agreement to End Hostilities, and we thank God that our prisoner class did not fall prey to CDCr’s threats to destroy our AEH across this state. Prisoners hold their destiny in the palm of their hands and we shall not allow any prison correctional officers, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, associate wardens, chief deputy wardens, wardens, the director of adult institutions, the undersecretary or the secretary or even Gov. Brown to destroy our faith in humanity. The Prisoner Human Rights Movement shall stand as ONE clenched fist in solidarity against CDCr oppression.

I want to make it clear that Gov. Brown and Secretary Beard operate with the mentality of Donald Tokowitz Sterling, the former Los Angeles Clipper’s owner. Just review their policies, rules, laws and practices directed at all prisoners and their family members, relatives, friends and all citizens within this state.

We shall not allow even Gov. Brown to destroy our faith in humanity. The Prisoner Human Rights Movement shall stand as ONE clenched fist in solidarity against CDCr oppression.

Stand up against injustice. Stand up against racism. Stand up against sensory deprivation.

People, get involved in struggle!

Revolutionary love and respect!

Brutha Sitawa

Send our brother some love and light: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, s/n R.N. Dewberry, C-35671, 4B-7C-209, P.O. Box 1906, Tehachapi CA 93581.

Gov. Brown commits crimes against prisoners’ humanity for guards’ campaign contributions

Published in: SF Bay View, Oct. 1st, 2013

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

Gov. Jerry Brown is the good ol’ boy of the 21st century prison industrial slave complex (PISC). I write this in the interest of my humanity and all humanity. My self-worth is not measured by the arbitrary placement of gang titles by my captors, over which I have no control. Yet I adamantly reject all labels placed on me to the day I die.

The governor is empowered by the people. Their voice is the voice he is supposed to adhere to in the state of California. He chooses to disregard the power of the people. The governor is so arrogant that he took the position along with his crony, Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard, to defy the highest court in this country.

This is the mentality of a good ol’ boy who attempts to rule with little regard for the interests of the common people of California. They exert their power to oppress and suppress the people, maintaining control over all aspects of our lives, whether we’re in or out of prison.

It amazes me how political officials who are empowered by the people have little or no respect for the people or the rule of law. They take the position that “this is how I run MY government.”

News flash: It’s not your government, governor. The government belongs to we the people. You are working to serve the peoples’ interest; we are not here to serve your interests.

You govern all the people of California, including prisoners, despite what you may think. If you are unable to do your job to the satisfaction of California taxpayers and voters, then it is time that you look for a new occupation this coming election. And you can take Secretary Beard along with you because the people will have spoken.

We say that our lives are more valuable than your re-election and we insist that you put politics aside and END LONG TERM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT NOW. Solitary confinement is torture.

Your silence does not excuse you for your crimes against our humanity. You are an overseer of CDCr prisons and we have evidence that clearly shows prisoners have been murdered, beaten and tortured throughout these solitary confinement units by CDCr officials who are subordinate to you.

We understand that you’re not willing to risk losing the $2 million in campaign money that the CCPOA – the prison guards’ union – contributes to your campaign for governor. We understand clearly that you are seeking re-election and do not want to jeopardize those donations.

But we say that our lives are more valuable than your re-election and we insist that you put politics aside and END LONG TERM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT NOW. Solitary confinement is torture. Amnesty International has condemned the pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured. The United Nations has condemned the pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

The United States Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons has been calling for an end to long term solitary confinement over the last seven years and has condemned this pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

We the people of California have condemned this pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

Amnesty International has condemned the pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

Governor, it is time for you and Secretary Beard to quit manipulating Californians with your Willie Horton racist rhetoric toward scaring the American people with the big Black boogie man syndrome.

The United Nations has condemned the pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

Stop it, governor! You and Beard should be ashamed of such divisive rhetoric that you use to pit Californians against each other by race, class and caste.

The United States Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons has been calling for an end to long term solitary confinement over the last seven years and has condemned this pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

We ask all supporters and non-supporters to vote politicians into positions of power who will hear the voice of the people. Reject those who abuse the power afforded to them due to some narcissistic, over-possessive control freak syndrome which many of them suffer from.

We the people of California have condemned this pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

We prisoners insist that the people of California get the facts. Follow your money. See whose pocket it’s going into.

Investigate the solitary confinement units. You’ll see that CDCr has been lying to you. When you find that out, will you then hold them accountable? Or will it be business as usual?

Where is the accountability to the taxpayers? Any public official who tortures prisoners does so in your name – not his or hers.

In struggle,

Sitawa