The four California prisoner class representatives call for solidarity and change

Source: SF Bayview, Feb 11, 2020

The "Four Main Reps" Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

These men, known as the “four main reps,” Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, conceived, planned and led the historic 2011-2013 California mass hunger strikes that drew 30,000 participants at their peak, according to CDCr’s own records.

Introduction by Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee

What follows below is an update from the leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes against indefinite solitary confinement and other mistreatment across the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr), the world’s largest prison system. These “reps” had been in solitary for decades and sought to draw attention to their plight through a series of non-violent hunger strikes, two in 2011, the first drawing 6,600 participants statewide, the second 12,000, and a third in 2013 that drew 30,000 participants, the largest prison hunger strike in history.

In 2012 the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with several other prominent California prison rights attorneys and organizations, formed a team, partnered with a representative group of 10 Pelican Bay SHU prisoner plaintiffs and filed a lawsuit on May 31, 2012. The lawsuit, Ashker v. Brown, charged that California’s practice of indefinitely isolating prisoners in solitary confinement violated U.S. Constitution protections against “cruel and unusual punishment” and guaranteeing “due process.” In the same year, the four reps and several other SHU prisoner reps issued the Agreement to End Hostilities.

A third hunger strike began July 8, 2013, and ended 60 days later making solitary confinement a major issue across the United States. All major U.S. newspapers’ editorial pages had at least one condemnation of the practice in the weeks that followed. The third strike ended when the California State Senate and State Assembly committees overseeing prisons held unprecedented joint hearings that outlined promises of major change.

On Sept. 1, 2015, a landmark settlement was achieved in Ashker v. Brown ending indeterminate solitary confinement in California prisons and allowing the legal team to monitor the California prison system to ensure compliance. This month, February 2020, the four reps have issued this update on their situation.

by the ‘four main reps’: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (names listed in alphabetical order)

A shout out of solidarity and respect to all class members and prisoners across the state. As the four reps, we felt a public report on the current state of California prisons from prisoners was overdue.

As leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes that captured the attention of the nation and the world on the role of solitary confinement in United States prison systems, particularly California, we four prisoner reps became recognized as speaking both for the Ashker class, former Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, but also more broadly in many respects for the entire California prisoner class.

California’s prison system, the largest in the world at that time, was the also the greatest abuser of long term solitary confinement. We were housed in the Short Corridor of the notorious Pelican Bay Super Max SHU (Security Housing Unit) and, as all Short Corridor prisoners understood, the only way out of that isolating tortuous hell was to “parole, snitch or die.”

We decided standing up together, asserting our humanity even at the cost of our own lives, was better than rotting and dying alone in our concrete tombs. Nonviolent united action was the only path that made sense; our only avenue to act was a hunger strike. It took widespread unity, preparation and work among us prisoners, but also work on the outside by our families, friends and a growing list of supporters across the state and the country.

Without prisoners speaking about our conditions of confinement, the public narrative about imprisonment and mass incarceration is missing a critical voice – our voice, the incarcerated. We are the first-hand experts on the daily experience of being caged in prison generally and the trauma of extreme isolation.

All other experts collect data, do studies, view our experience without living it. Many, not all, are our oppressors. Their expertise is not about what incarceration is like, but why we and so many millions of people in the U.S. should be imprisoned. No voice has more expertise about the experience and impact of incarceration than the voice of prisoners.

No voice has more expertise about the experience and impact of incarceration than the voice of prisoners.

Here we make five points:

First. Prison in the United States is based on punishment, not rehabilitation. The United States has the largest prison population in the world and the highest percentage of a state’s population housed in cages. We are held in punishing ways that cause fear, emptiness, rage, depression and violence. Many of us are more damaged when we leave prison than when we entered.

According to the National Reentry Resource Center, a high percentage of state and federal prisoners will be released back into society. National statistics indicate that there is a high rate of released prisoners returning to prison. All of those who leave are older, some smarter, but all of us are less able to be productive in the society at large or good for our communities or our families. It is very hard for former prisoners to get jobs.

Prison presents an opportunity for society to rehabilitate or help people. Many of us could use support services. That opportunity is lost and buried by a vindictive ideology of punishment.

Rather than us being hypervigilant, concentrating on violence, dangers, our fears and rage, prison could be a place to engage our minds in useful jobs and job training, with classrooms for general learning, training in self-awareness and understanding, anti-addiction approaches. Instead, we are mostly just warehoused, sometimes in dangerous yards with angry, frightened, vicious guards.

California’s Gov. Newsom has the opportunity to help institute a massive prison reform movement.

Second. California likes to think of itself as a progressive national leader, yet in sentencing California is among the harshest in the nation. In California, a life term is given for second degree murder. Second degree murder is a non-premeditated killing. Only 17 states are that punishing. Two thirds of the states and the U.S. federal system give a flat 15 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that evolving standards of society’s decency should create a national  consensus on sentencing standards. Our prison journeys begin in those courts. We four reps of the California prison class call for reform in sentencing. Massive money could be spent for education, training and jobs here and in our communities rather than on caging human beings to harm rather than help us or society.

Third. The trauma we experience in these overcrowded institutions with a culture of aggressive oppression, as if we are violent animals, is harmful and breeds violence. We prisoners should not join in our own oppression. It is not in the interest of the prison class to buy into promised rewards for lying on other prisoners.

The use of lying confidential informants is widespread and legendary in California prisons and jails. We see even among ourselves, who have great active lawyers ready to pay attention to our situations, just how regularly vicious retaliation, evil lying  and disregard of our medical needs occurs. Broadly among the California prisoner class, there is mistreatment, horrid isolation, medical disregard, terrible food, cells that are too cold, too hot or too damp.

The history of positive social change demonstrates that when those who are oppressed stand together – as a group, a class – against that oppression, change can happen. Our own experience with eliminating endless solitary confinement in California proves that.

We need to stand with each other, behaving respectfully, demanding respect and not turning on our fellow prisoners for promises of crumbs. We four reps stand for major prison reform that helps us, not harms us, that betters society, not makes it worse.

California’s Gov. Newsom has the opportunity to help institute a massive prison reform movement.

Fourth. We four reps are for the principles we outlined in the Agreement to End Hostilities, the cessation of all hostilities between groups. We called on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes.

If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues. We encourage all prisoners to study the Agreement to End Hostilities and to try to live by those principles to seek your support to strive together for a safer prison environment.

We are not there yet. Dangerous cross-group hostility remains. What we experience in California prisons is not just developed in prison but is also widespread and supported in free society. Racial antagonisms, ghettoized housing, separation, institutionalized racism and promotion of beliefs of each other as less than human, as stupid, as criminal barbarians can cause us to fear and hate each other.

It does not serve us or society well. There are no easy ways to challenge these deep American divisions; forcing us together in joint yards, visiting rooms or classrooms will lead to violence and deepen the danger.

We four reps especially call out and stand against 50/50 yards. We oppose forced mixing of hostile groups where mortal enemies are forced together; 50/50 yards are dangerous and will make things much worse by causing fresh horrific encounters. No matter the policy’s intention, the state is responsible for our safety and wellbeing while we’re living under its jurisdiction.

We are entitled to respect and safety. We seek what we are entitled to. The 50/50 yards as a CDCr policy provokes violence. At this time, we endorse separate yards, separate programming and separate visiting.

We also call on California leadership, Gov. Newsom and the State Assembly and Senate to implement policies that encourage and grow support for the Agreement to End Hostilities that do not include 50/50 yards or forced interaction, but rather engage our minds and energy with productive jobs, education, training – major prison reform to a genuine rehabilitative system.

Fifth. The guard culture, especially in the yards, is vicious and provocative. Here where we live, the guards do not care about our safety. The guards get extra pay when there is violence; it is in their financial interest to promote it. Not surprisingly, guards regularly provoke disputes. Many enjoy the resulting violence.

California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the powerful guards’ union, is led by men who for the most part consider prisoners less than human. The CCPOA by their network and behavior supports the use of set ups, targeting, lying and isolation for random punishment. This intentionally causes widespread fear.

California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the powerful guards’ union, is led by men who for the most part consider prisoners less than human.

The CCPOA as one of the most politically influential organizations in California and holds many righteous political leaders hostage. The CCPOA members benefit with large overtime pay bonuses from violence and lockdowns.

Only if prison reform becomes a widespread demand of California voters can the influence of CCPOA be challenged. We need our families, friends and communities to build and extend our allies and develop strong support to vote for politicians who recognize our worth and are for widespread serious prison reform and an end to brutal warehousing that endangers society every day.

CDCR and California itself are legally responsible and accountable for prison conditions. Neglect does not free them of state institution responsibility for those in their “care.” The guards’ union should not be permitted to purchase power for abuse.

California citizens need to vote for prison rehabilitation as a priority: money for teachers, instructors, prisoner jobs instead of lockdown overtime and more guards.

Finally, we close with an update on our legal challenge. Our class action constitutional challenge to long-term solitary confinement was filed in May of 2012. We won a landmark settlement on Sept. 1, 2015, that resulted in thousands of people being released from SHUs across the state.

The settlement also gave us and our legal team the right and responsibility to monitor whether CDCr is following the requirements of the settlement for two years. That monitoring period was set to end in 2017, but in January 2019, U.S. Magistrate Judge Illman granted our motion to extend monitoring of the settlement agreement based on ongoing systemic constitutional violations in CDCR’s use of confidential information and in its reliance on past gang validations to deny parole.

Magistrate Judge Illman’s order extended our monitoring for 12 months. CDCr appealed and asked the court to suspend monitoring pending the appeal outcome. U.S. District Court Judge Wilken intervened and allowed us to continue monitoring pending any appeal outcomes.

When those who are oppressed stand together – as a group, a class – against that oppression, change can happen. Our own experience with eliminating endless solitary confinement in California proves that.

Our legal team has two pending appeals that CDCr has filed seeking to overturn the lower court orders in our favor. One appeal covers the extension of the monitoring as discussed above; the other covers enforcement of the settlement agreement regarding conditions of confinement in Level IV prisons and the RCGP (Restricted Custody General Population) unit.

As our legal team continues to monitor implementation of our settlement agreement, they are looking closely at how CDCR uses confidential information to place and keep validated and nonvalidated prisoners in Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation) and RCGP for long periods of time and sentence people to SHU for bogus RVRs (Rules Violation Reports). They are also trying to keep track of how validations continue to impact us, especially when we go before the parole board.

If you have any information about any of these issues, although they cannot respond to every letter, please write our team at: Anne Cappella, Attorney at Law, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, 201 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Fourth Floor, Redwood City, CA 94065.

In closing, we remind all of us prisoners and supporters that we are human beings who have a difficult shared experience. We have a right to our dignity, even inside these punishing walls. We present an opportunity to make society better rather than meaner.

We ask all prisoners to stand together, read and act within the principles of the Agreement to End Hostilities, whether you are in Ad Seg or RCGP or General Population, see yourselves as part of an international Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

We four prisoner reps send regards and recognition to each of you as fellow human beings who are entitled to fairness, dignity and respect. We send our respect to all our brothers and sisters incarcerated anywhere with hopes for genuine rehabilitative programming, jobs, education and training in this coming year.

We send our greetings to all the friends, family and communities from which we come, to all our allies in the general society, and we send our hopes for an understanding of the opportunity California has to again be a leader in reform to make the world a better place with so many of us who need help gathered together in state institutions.

We send extra love, support and attention to our Brother Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, who is experiencing challenging health issues. Our Brother Sitawa sends his extra love to all those prisoners, prisoners’ families and general supporters of the International Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

The authors requested the Agreement to End Hostilities be appended to their statement.


Agreement to End Hostilities

Dated Aug. 12, 2012

To whom it may concern and all California Prisoners:

Greetings from the entire PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives. We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP-SHU Corridor. Wherein, we have arrived at a mutual agreement concerning the following points:

1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, that now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.

2. Therefore, beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end. And if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!

3. We also want to warn those in the general population that IGI [Institutional Gang Investigators] will continue to plant undercover Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer “inmates” amongst the solid GP prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats and obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our mutual causes (i.e., forcing CDCR to open up all GP main lines and return to a rehabilitative-type system of meaningful programs and privileges, including lifer conjugal visits etc. via peaceful protest activity and noncooperation, e.g., hunger strike, no labor etc.). People need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics and refuse to allow such IGI inmate snitches to create chaos and reignite hostilities amongst our racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU (Investigative Service Unit), OCS (Office of Correctional Safety) and SSU’s (Service Security Unit’s) old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners] and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!

We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!

Because the reality is that, collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners and thereby the public as a whole, and we simply cannot allow CDCR and CCPOA, the prison guards’ union, IGI, ISU, OCS and SSU to continue to get away with their constant form of progressive oppression and warehousing of tens of thousands of prisoners, including the 14,000-plus prisoners held in solitary confinement torture chambers – SHU and ad-seg units – for decades!

We send our love and respect to all those of like mind and heart. Onward in struggle and solidarity!

Send our brothers some love and light:

  • Todd Ashker, C58191, KVSP, P.O. Box 5101, Delano CA 93216
  • Arturo Castellanos, C17275, PBSP, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • George Franco, D46556. DVO. 2300, 2300 Kasson Rd, Tracy CA 95304
  • Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Ronnie Dewberry), Freedom Outreach, c/o Marie Levin for Sitawa, Fruitvale Station, P.O. Box 7359, Oakland CA 94601 (Use this address until Sitawa fully recovers)

Laura Magnani, assistant regional director for the American Friends Service Committee’s West Region, has been working on criminal justice issues since the 1970s and with AFSC since 1989. Laura is author of “America’s First Penitentiary: A Two Hundred Year Old Failure” (1990) and co-author, along with Harmon Ray, of “Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System” (2006). She also authored the 2008 report. “Buried Alive: Long-term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons.” She can be reached at LMagnani@afsc.org. Bay View staff contributed to the introduction.

This logo, created by the premiere prison artist, known as Rashid, was eagerly adopted by the California hunger strikers as the symbol of their sacrifice and strength in solidarity. – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 264847, Pendleton Correctional Facility, G-20-2C, 4490 W. Reformatory Road, Pendleton, IN 46064

This logo, created by the premiere prison artist, known as Rashid, was eagerly adopted by the California hunger strikers as the symbol of their sacrifice and strength in solidarity. – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 264847, Pendleton Correctional Facility, G-20-2C, 4490 W. Reformatory Road, Pendleton, IN 46064

We stand together so prisoners never have to go through the years of torture we did

Published on the SF Bayiew, March 1, 2018
by Todd Ashker

This is a follow-up to our October 2017 Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement’s statement of prisoner representatives on the second anniversary of the Ashker v. Brown settlement.

In our collective October 2017 statement, we stressed: “(P)risoners and our families will have to re-energize the human rights movement, to fight against the continuing violations of our rights.” We reminded all involved, “We must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to.”

With this in mind, I am sharing a copy of my proposed “Open Letter to Gov. Brown, California legislators and CDCR Secretary Kernan on ongoing human rights violations and lack of reparative action for decades of torture” with the hope of helping to re-energize our movement, by gaining widespread support for the positions presented in the “open letter.”

As many are aware, our current collective movement began in the bowels of Pelican Bay State Prison – the SHU Short Corridor, wherein prisoners of different races and geographical areas became openly conscious of what we had in common, rather than what was different and divisive. We recognized we’d all been subjected to the same adversary’s boots on our necks, all members of a prisoner class subjected to decades of solitary confinement torture.

We became aware of the fact that those of us serving “term-to-life” sentences were all akin to the living dead, our existence being that of a mind numbing, spirit destroying, endless nightmare. I believe coming together in the Short Corridor, where we witnessed the toll of our slow decay, together with the prisoncrats progressively punitive, oppressive provocations, was one cause of our awakening, leading to us coming together as the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective.

Our struggle was focused on ending long-term solitary confinement and improvements to conditions. We stood up together and collectively we educated our loved ones and the general public about what had been in society’s shadow for far too long. We publicly “drew the line” and said, “No more!”

As a committed collective of fellow human beings, a large majority hailing from working class, poor communities, we lead our struggle from behind the walls, putting our lives in the balance – at that point, our lives being all we had. We demanded an end to our torture, based on our inherent right as human beings to humane treatment, inclusive of dignity and respect for our loved ones and the unfortunate generations to follow.

Notably, our collective membership had been the subject of the state’s decades long tough-on-crime war against the working-class poor. Politicized, we were vilified and branded as “the worst of the worst” in order to justify our subjection to endless torture – lasting for many of us more than 30 years.

In our collective October 2017 statement, we stressed: “(P)risoners and our families will have to re-energize the human rights movement, to fight against the continuing violations of our rights.” We reminded all involved, “We must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to.”
In this climate, we came together and utilized non-violent, peaceful protest actions, mass hunger strikes and work stoppages, which, together with the support of our awakened loved ones and countless other people of conscience outside the walls – while all along suffering with us – exposed our plight to the world community.

In 2012, we introduced our collective “Agreement to End Race-based Hostilities,” making clear our united intent to no longer be the source of our mutual adversary’s manipulation tactics, centered on keeping us divided and violent towards one another, which was thereby used to justify our adversary’s agenda – supermax, indefinite warehousing.

In that way, we demonstrated our humanity in the face of the provocations of our oppressive torturers. We pointed out the fact that, in the absence of race-based violence, our mutual adversary would be forced to end its policy of warehousing us in the small cells indefinitely, and open the prison up for meaningful programming and privileges, beneficial to the prisoner class.

I mention the above points as important reminders of the fact that the main basis for the success we’ve achieved to date has been our collective unity inside and outside the prison walls, making strategic use of combined litigation and peaceful activism, action tools, which, together with our related collective belief in and commitment to our cause, is a great example of “the power of the people.”

Our adversaries are constantly resisting any change beneficial to the prisoner class! History demonstrates the importance of our need to stand together collectively and refuse to allow those in power – at the will of the people – to halt our progressive movements’ demands for human rights and real justice, because, historically, every class action, civil-suit “victory” for the prisoner class in California has been manipulated by prisoncrats to the ultimate detriment of those that such “victory” was intended to benefit. It’s a non-stop battle!

What I greatly appreciate and respect about our Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement is what I hope is our part in society’s evolutionary leap in collective human consciousness. Standout examples of this for me go back to the Arab Spring and the massive Georgia prison system-wide work strike in December 2010 and then the January 2011 hunger strike at Ohio State Prison.

The main basis for the success we’ve achieved to date has been our collective unity inside and outside the prison walls, making strategic use of combined litigation and peaceful activism, action tools, which, together with our related collective belief in and commitment to our cause, is a great example of “the power of the people.”
Reflecting on the above, as well as our historic, collective group mass hunger strike protests across the California system of 2011-2013, brings to mind an often quoted phrase – a sort of benchmark of what’s wrong with society. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, reflecting on his own incarceration, famously said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Our collective composed of working class poor coming together in the context of having been demonized – tortured over three decades, facing extreme adversity from a powerful, well-funded adversary toppled and to an extent losing their supermax jewel, the PBSP SHU, by our peaceful protests and related global condemnation and litigation – epitomizes a great side of our society! I hope it’s an example of a growing social revolutionary process.

Related to the above, and to our common struggle in general, I want to share a few excerpts from “The Zinn Reader” – a bit of food for thought. On the subject of “Law and Justice,” Zinn wrote in “Obedience and Disobedience,” page 369:

“’Obey the law.’ That is a powerful teaching, often powerful enough to overcome deep feelings of right and wrong, even to override the fundamental instinct for personal survival. We learn very early (it’s not in our genes) that we must obey ‘the law of the land.’ …

“But the dominant ideology leaves no room for making intelligent and humane distinctions about the obligation to obey the law. It is stern and absolute. It is the unbending rule of every government, whether fascist, communist or liberal capitalist. Gertrude Schultz-Klink, chief of the Women’s Bureau under Hitler, explained to an interviewer after the war the Jewish policy of the Nazis: ‘We always obeyed the law. Isn’t that what you do in America? Even if you don’t agree with a law personally, you still obey it. Otherwise, life would be chaos.’

“’Life would be chaos.’ If we allow disobedience to law we will have anarchy. That idea is inculcated in the population of every country. The accepted phrase is ‘law and order.’ It is a phrase that sends police and military in to break up demonstrations everywhere, whether in Moscow or Chicago. It was behind the killing of our students at Kent State University in 1970 by National Guardsmen. It was the reason given by Chinese authorities in 1989 when they killed hundreds of demonstrating students in Beijing.

“It is a phrase that has appeal for most citizens, who, unless they themselves have a powerful grievance against authority, are afraid of disorder. … Surely, peace, stability and order are desirable. Chaos and violence are not. But stability and order are not the desirable conditions for social life. There is also justice, meaning the fair treatment of all human beings, the equal right of all people to freedom and prosperity. Absolute obedience to law may bring order temporarily, but it may not bring justice. And when it does not, those treated unjustly may protest, may rebel, may cause disorder, as the American revolutionaries did in the 18th century, as anti-slavery people did in the 19th century, as Chinese students did in the 20th century, and as working people going on strike have done in every country, across the centuries.”

I appreciate Zinn’s view that absolute obedience to the law may achieve order for a time, while lacking justice. My point in sharing it is: Just because it’s a law – or a rule or regulation – does not make it right or just. And when it’s not, especially when those in power recite it to justify violations of human rights, it’s the responsibility of all to protest, to rebel, to cause disorder as necessary to force change.

From Zinn’s “The Optimism of Uncertainty,” “(T)he struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold onto it. That apparent power has, again and again, proven vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience – whether by Blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.”

In “We are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism,” Herbert Read writes: “What has been worthwhile in human history – the great achievements of physics and astronomy, of geographical discovery and of human healing, of philosophy and of art – has been the work of extremists, of those who believed in the absurd, dared the impossible.”

I greatly appreciate your time, attention, courage and dedicated, supportive commitment to our collective struggle. Our strength and power come from our unity! And I am certain we can and will continue to make positive impacts upon the system, forcing real changes beneficial to all.

I hope we all continue to move forward, confident our fight is a worthy and just cause, working together in imaginative, strategic ways. It would be great if people will share, promote and build on the subject. Examples are in my “Open Letter,” possibly adding a supporting petition, signed by as many as possible, even if the petition is presented after public presentation of the “Open Letter” to the named parties.

There are more innovative, imaginative ideas that I’m working on and will share for your consideration soon. In the meanwhile, stay strong.

In Solidarity and Respect,

Todd

Send our brother some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, KVSP ASU2-194, P.O. Box 5106, Delano CA 93216.


Open Letter to Gov. Brown, California legislators and CDCR Secretary Kernan on ongoing human rights violations and lack of reparative action for decades of torture
Re: Attention to ongoing human right violations and related lack of reparative action necessary to begin making amends for more than three decades of systematic, intentional, state-sanctioned torture

I respectfully present the above-named parties with this “open letter” requesting attention to ongoing human rights violations and related lack of reparative action necessary to begin making amends for more than three decades of systematic, intentional, state-sanctioned torture and related harm therefrom to the prisoner class, as well as the general public, marked by the stain such policies cause subsequent to global condemnation; e.g., 2011-2013 mass, peaceful prisoner hunger strike protests against decades of subjection to torturous solitary confinement.

I present this “open letter” as a proudly involved principle representative of the growing Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement, as a peaceful action-activist, prison conditions litigator (inclusive of being lead named plaintiff in Ashker v. Brown) and 30-year survivor of CDCR’s state-sanctioned torture policies and practices.

I bring to your attention five examples of CDCR policies and practices equating to egregious, on-going human rights violations, resulting in numerous deaths and terrible, permanent harm to tens of thousands of prisoners, to our outside loved ones of the prisoner class and the general public, with hope for meaningful, tangible action to ensure this never occurs again; as well as timely, reparative action necessary to begin making amends for harm caused.

I. Examples of CDCR policies and practices equating to egregious, on-going human rights violations, harming tens of thousands

A) Status-based (CDCR classification as validated gang affiliate), indefinite placement in solitary confinement (SHU) “until you parole, die or debrief.” Many prisoner class members were subjected to this endless, torturous nightmare for more than three decades. Secretary Kernan called this a “failed experiment” during an October 2017 TV interview on “60 Minutes.”

B) Building more than 23 prisons, equating to thousands of cells, basically designed as massive human warehouses, with little thought about work, education, vocational and rehabilitative opportunities – thus causing severe shortages of support structures (classrooms, shops etc.), resulting in the majority of prisoners languishing in small cells for years on end. This is in spite of the fact that providing prisoners with such opportunities of substantive meaningfulness is proven to reduce recidivism.

C) Building several large prisons in the southern Central Valley desert areas of the state, known to be covered with deadly valley fever spores. The knowledge goes at least as far back as WWII, whereupon the same areas were sites for German POWs and Japanese internment camps, where hundreds died of valley fever.

Notable is the fact that, in an approximate four-to-six-year time period, 60 to 70 CDCR prisoners died of valley fever, with countless others, including staff, becoming deathly ill, many permanently damaged. Around 2014-2015, the federal court medical overseer, in connection with the class action Plata case, ordered the immediate transfer of approximately 300 at-risk prisoners to prisons outside the known valley fever zone. This order was initially resisted. The media quoted Gov. Brown stating, “It’s not been proven valley fever is the cause of deaths and illnesses. Thus, we will challenge the order, pending a study.” His statement held until a New Yorker magazine published an article with data regarding WWII deaths at the same sites.

D) Decades of constitutionally deficient medical and mental health care, resulting in countless preventable deaths, medical and suicidal, which the state fought tooth and nail to preserve, demonstrated a total lack of respect for the federal court orders in the mental health class action Coleman case between 1990 and 2006, when CDCR violated more than 70 court orders issued by Judge Karlton. This resulted in the creation of the federal three-judge panel, combining the Coleman and Plata cases, wherein it was determined that “overcrowding” in the CDCR system was the primary cause of decades of failure to provide the minimum of medical and mental health care mandated by the U.S. Constitution. The panel of judges ordered a reduction of prisoners, which the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost, based on the well-established on record, shocking abuse. To this day, thousands are denied adequate treatment to cure their Hepatitis C.

E) CDCR policy and practice that subjects countless women prisoners seeking contraception and other types of care to permanent sterilization! Without their knowledge or consent!

F) CDCR policy and practice, arguably resulting in at least 39 deaths and hundreds of severe, permanent injuries, amounting to criminal homicide and assault with great bodily injury in a nine-year period, from January 1987 to December 1995, when CDCR used the “The Warning Shot” and “Integrated SHU Concrete Yard” policies. Under these policies, staff are mandated to respond to any and all physical altercations with deadly force – high power assault rifles, using specialized ammunition designed to cause maximum damage, e.g., 9 mm “glazier” rounds and mini-14, 223s. At that time, CDCR “integrated” the small concrete yards at New Folsom and Corcoran, placing segregated SHU prisoners – segregated based on historic rivalries – on yards together.

In a federal court civil trial, Eastern District, Sacramento 1994, a top CDCR administrator, Diggs, testified that they “knew the above policies would initially result in chaos, but viewed such as ‘collateral’ because they believed, over time, prisoners in SHU who wanted their only out-of-cell yard time would learn to get along.” Another “failed experiment.”

To reiterate, the above are presented as examples of on-going human rights violations in the CDCR system. They are each notable to have gone on unchecked for long periods of time, known to be morally and ethically – in addition to legally – wrong beforehand.

Each of the above continued for long periods of time, until finally being publicly exposed and condemned, thereby forcing some changes, often after protracted legal battles as well.

Unfortunately, several areas referenced above continue to be unresolved, meaning decades of egregious, harmful violations continue to this day! I hope you will take them seriously and take reparative action. Some suggested actions follow:

II. Suggested reparative actions necessary to begin making amends for more than three decades of systematic, intentional, state-sanctioned torture

The following are suggested examples of reparative-type actions to begin to amend the process for tens of thousands of warehoused prisoners in general, as well as towards the damage done to those members of the prisoner class subjected to the “failed experiment,” having been subject to more than 30 years of solitary confinement torture, the damage of which persists to this day. See, for example, the 2017 Stanford report, “Mental Health Consequences Following Release from Long-Term Solitary Confinement in California.”

The following suggestions are briefly summarized, and more detailed support will be presented soon.

A) Term-to-life sentences and parole suitability:

Many prisoners used as guinea pigs in CDCR’s decades-long solitary confinement, a “failed experiment,” per Secretary Kernan, are serving term-to-life sentences: seven years to life, 15 years to life or 25 years to life, incarcerated since the early 1970s or the ‘80s and ‘90s. They are above and beyond their base term and their minimum eligible parole dates, many having served double, triple and more beyond those dates. I know several men who are still serving seven-years-to-life sentences given between 1970 and 1978.

We spent 20 to 30-plus years in solitary confinement, based on “status,” rather than “behavior,” and were denied work, vocational training, education and rehabilitation opportunities for most if not all of this time. When we go to our parole hearings, we are issued multi-year deferrals until our next hearings, again based on “status” alone for the most part, rather than individual evidence of current, serious danger to the public if released. We hear rote recitations of gang validation, lack of programming, lengthy SHU, refusal to debrief, participation in hunger strikes and relatively minor prison rule violations, like “possessing cell phones,” which nets a more than five-year deferral by itself.

Much of the above is related to our being included in the “failed experiment.” We are now in our 50s, 60s, 70s, begging the question: How do you repair the decades of damage done to our ability, under current standards, to receive a parole date?

Arguably, these points are applicable to a majority of lifers, “warehoused” and denied opportunities to achieve parole, due to the extreme shortage of programming opportunities at most institutions. They too are at and above their “minimums.” Notably, California has approximately 30,000 lifers above their “minimums.” Most are elderly, thus costing more annually than today’s average California prisoner does, at more than $70,000 annually. It’s also a matter of proportionality, coupled with “current danger” factors. Statistics nationwide, over the course of decades, demonstrate that prisoners sentenced to life, who have served more than 10 years and are paroled above age 40 have a less than 2 percent recidivism rate.

I suggest the following changes regarding lifer parole:

i) Reintroduce and pass a streamlined version of Sen. Hancock’s Feb. 21, 2014, SB1363, seeking amendment to California Penal Code §3041, which in a nutshell proposed, “Absent substantial evidence with respect to entire record demonstrating a current, serious danger to public safety, the Board shall set a parole release date for those who have served beyond their base term” – reasonable, considering that current law states, “Parole shall normally be granted at the minimum eligibility date.”

ii) Enact legislation designed to prevent the ongoing human rights violations, exemplified by references herein: For example, expand on the rights accorded the prisoner class in California Penal Code §§2600, 2601, et. seq., to include, but not be solely limited to the right to be free of solitary confinement in SHU or ASU, defined as spending 22½ hours per day in a cell for periods longer than permissible under international treaty law; rights to contact visits three to four days a week; right to same protections against CDCR’s use and abuse of confidential source information, as accorded to defendants in criminal prosecution, e.g., California Penal Code §§1111 and 1111.5, et. seq.

Provide the funding, with immediate mandate for CDCR to construct the support facilities necessary at each facility to provide programming and rehabilitation for the majority, rather than current minority, of prisoners, so that access is provided to sufficient numbers of classrooms, vocational training and rehabilitation workshop areas.

iii) Open up the Level IV general population prisons, allowing much more out-of-cell time in yard, day room etc. Such Level IVs are presently operated like modified SHU units, with thousands warehoused in cells, spending more time in small cells than SHU or ASU units.

iv) Expand contact visits, adding one to two days of visiting to the current weekends-only allowance. This can be accomplished without additional costs, simply by closing down a few of the nearly empty ASU and stand-alone units and re-routing costs and staffing from such units to visiting day expansions.

v) Remove “close custody” classification applied per revised regulation, Feb. 20, 2017; CCR, Title 15, §3377.2 (b) (1) (A), to most members of the Ashker v. Brown class action released from decades of “failed experiment” solitary confinement torture to general populations, based on the October 2015 settlement. “Close custody” prohibits 72-hour “family visits,” as well as further restricting various programming and privilege opportunities.

If we had not been “experimented” on for 10, 20 or 30-plus years, we would have been free from “close custody” in the 1980s and 90s. All of our CSRA scores are low.

vi) End close custody privilege group classification program failure determination based on “a significant disciplinary history, which may be evidenced by two serious or two administrative and one serious rule violations in a 180-day period,” per CCR, Title 15, §3000, which has the “program failure” definition.

This places severe punishments on the prisoner, in addition to those imposed for each rule violation. It is imposed regardless of the prisoner’s positive programming in every other way: work, school, rehabilitation, yard, day room etc., and actually strips away one’s job.

“Program failure” close custody status was created in 1985-1986 to punish those prisoners “refusing a job or education assignment.” That’s all it should apply to.

As stated above, the suggestions are a few examples of changes to the system that would be viewed as a positive amends-making, a beginning. It would be very helpful for you to meet with us, the principle prisoner representatives and our outside mediation team, for additional dialogue – asap.

Thank you for your time, attention and consideration,

Respectfully yours,

Todd Ashker, Prisoner Class Representative

PTSD SC: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Solitary Confinement

photo collage of Baridi J. Williamson and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

Baridi J. Williamson and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa in a photo collage

Published in the SF Bayview, February 26, 2018

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Baridi J. Williamson

California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) had been locking classes of prisoners up in solitary confinement since the ‘60s as part of CDCr’s para-military low-intensity warfare, to break the minds and spirits of its subjects, California’s prisoner class. CDCr’s solitary confinement has two operating components: 1) punishing you and 2) physically and mentally destroying you.

In the 1970s, CDCr’s report to then Gov. Ronald Reagan on revolutionary organizations and gangs resulted in Reagan ordering the CDCr director to lock up all radicals, militants, revolutionaries and jailhouse lawyers who were considered “trouble-makers.”[i] And a 1986 report by the CDCr task force stated that during the ‘60s and ‘70s, California’s prisoners became “politicized” through the influence of outside “radical, social movements.”

And conscious prisoners began to “demand” their human, constitutional and civil rights,[ii] as exemplified by those politicized prisoners of war (PPOW) like W.L. Nolen.[iii] In the late ‘60s, Nolen and other PPOWs filed a civil rights class action case challenging the inhumane, degrading conditions and institutional racism that was prevalent at Soledad Prison’s solitary confinement O-wing,[iv] as well as throughout CDCr’s prison system to date.

The 1986 CDCr task force report recommended that CDCr build “supermax” prisons for this politicized class of prisoners, which was echoed by the California prison guards’ union (known today as CCPOA) in continuing their low-intensity warfare upon California prisoners up into and through the ‘80s.

Shortly thereafter, California government through its apparatus CDCr, built its solitary confinement torture sites, such as Security Housing Units (SHUs) and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Segs) at Tehachapi in December 1986, New Folsom in December 1987, Corcoran in December 1988 and at Pelican Bay State Prison in December of 1989. All were designed with the malicious intent to destroy human lives through their diabolical low-intensity warfare scheme of mass validation – group punishment – indeterminate SHU classification and enhanced “debriefing” interrogation, known as “snitch, parole or die!”

Each of California’s governors and CDCr cabinet secretaries from 1977 to 2015 knowingly enhanced their system to become more repressive upon the prisoners held in solitary confinement in the SHUs. We prisoners have known for the past decades that California citizens have not condoned the torture of California prisoners. Nevertheless, since the ‘60s, each state governor and legislature knowingly sanctioned solitary confinement torture.

California’s CDCr – with the winks and nods of lawmakers and judges – has held countless prisoners in solitary confinement, whether it is called Ad-Seg, Management Control Unit, Adjustment Center, SHU or Administrative SHU, longer than any prison system within the United States, ranging up to 45 years of torture and acts of racial discrimination from Soledad Prison’s O-wing to PBSP’s new form of solitary confinement torture.

The case of Madrid v. Gomez was the first acknowledgement on the part of California authorities and judiciary recognizing the harm that CDCr had been causing – mental torture – to those held in solitary confinement across the state’s prison system.[v]

We prisoners have known for the past decades that California citizens have not condoned the torture of California prisoners. Nevertheless, since the ‘60s, each state governor and legislature knowingly sanctioned solitary confinement torture.

The Madrid case touched on the harsh conditions and treatment toward the solitary confinement prisoners at PBSP. It is a clear fact that during the years 1989 to 1994, PBSP had one of the most notorious Violence Control Units (VCUs) in the U.S. CDCr-PBSP officials utilized the VCU for to violate prisoners’ human, constitutional and civil rights by beating us and destroying the minds and spirits of so many of us for years.

An example of how some prisoners would find themselves forced into PBSP’s VCU is when the CDCr bus would arrive at PBSP and park outside the entrance doorway to solitary confinement – Facilities C and D. A squad of goons dressed in paramilitary gear with black gloves, shields and riot helmets would be there waiting. They called themselves the “Welcoming Committee.”

These guards, describing themselves as the Green Wall guard gang, using “G/W” and “7/23” as symbols for “Green Wall,” would roam through the SHU corridors assaulting, beating and scalding prisoners. See Madrid v. Gomez.

The Welcoming Committee would select one or more prisoners and pull them off the bus – usually choosing those the transportation guards accused of “talking loud.” They would take each one to the side and jump on him, then drag him off through the brightly lighted doorway.

These guards, describing themselves as the Green Wall guard gang, using “G/W” and “7/23” as symbols for “Green Wall,” would roam through the SHU corridors assaulting, beating and scalding prisoners.

When the rest of the prisoners were escorted off the bus into the corridor to be warehoused in the general SHU cells, they would see those beaten prisoners dragged off the bus “hog-tied”[vi] and lying on their stomachs or crouched in a fetal position, sometimes in a pool of blood.[vii]Later, they were dragged off to the VCU, where they were targeted with intense mind-breaking operations.

When these prisoners were eventually taken out of VCU and housed in the general SHU cells, they mostly displayed insanity – smearing feces all over their bodies, screaming, yelling, banging cups, throwing urine.[viii] And it was only when prisoners began to go public about the VCU at PBSP that CDCr ceased those practices.[ix]

The effects of solitary confinement at PBSP compelled CDCr to establish Psychiatric Service Units (PSUs) in response to the Madrid ruling for remedying the conditions that were destroying the minds of all prisoners who were held captive from the time of the Madrid ruling in 1995 through 2014, but they were poor and ineffective. Those released to the PSU from SHU fared no better than others held in solitary confinement at PBSP.

Prisoners in SHU continued to suffer mental, emotional and physical harm with no remedy made available by CDCr until we were released out to General Population units by the Departmental Review Board (DRB) between 2012 and 2014 and the Ashker v. Brown class action settlement in 2015.

These released prisoners were coming from a torture chamber, where by necessity they created coping skills like self-medicating. Typically, when coming out of solitary confinement, women and men prisoners show signs of depressive disorder and symptoms characteristic of self-mutilation, mood deterioration and depression, traumatic stress disorder, hopelessness, panic disorder, anger, obsessive-compulsive disorder, irritability, anhedonia, fatigue, feelings of guilt, loss of appetite, nervousness, insomnia, worry, increased heart rate and respiration, sweating, hyperarousal, serious problems with socialization, paranoia, loss of appetite, as well as cognitive issues, nightmares, muscle tension, intrusive thoughts, fear of losing control, and difficulty concentrating.[x]

Prisoners in SHU continued to suffer mental, emotional and physical harm with no remedy made available by CDCr until we were released out to General Population units by the Departmental Review Board (DRB) between 2012 and 2014 and the Ashker v. Brown class action settlement in 2015.

The California prison system realized that these prisoners held initially at PBSP and subsequently at Tehachapi and throughout the system had their constitutional rights violated under the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th Amendment guarantee of due process of the law, for decades.[xi]

Jules Lobel of the Center for Constitutional Rights and lead counsel in Ashker stated:

“The torture of solitary confinement doesn’t end when the cell doors open. California’s continued violation of the Constitution and new evidence of the persistent impact of prolonged solitary confinement requires CDCR to make essential changes in their conduct and rehabilitative programs, and, more broadly, demonstrates the urgent need to end solitary confinement across the country.”[xii]

The Ashker v. Brown class action, settled in 2015, is a historic lawsuit exposing those violations and the harms they cause. We, as California prisoners and citizens of this state, deserve to be treated for the intentional cruelty caused by state-sanctioned torture. This is especially so for the hundreds of solitary confinement prisoners who have spent more than 27 months in any form of solitary confinement, which constitutes torture, according to the Ninth Circuit.[xiii]

CDCr has continued to shun its governmental responsibilities and has not effectively remedied the pain and suffering of thousands of solitary confinement prisoners who have been released to General Population through the DRB and Ashker. All of them are suffering from various aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Solitary Confinement (PTSDSC).

We, as California prisoners and citizens of this state, deserve to be treated for the intentional cruelty caused by state-sanctioned torture.

If you are reading this, join us in writing, emailing and calling Gov. Brown (916-445-2841 or jerry.brown@gov.ca), Secretary of CDCr Scott Kernan (916-324-7308) and Sen. Holly Mitchell (916-324-7308 or http://sd30.senate.ca.gov/e-mail-holly), who chairs the Public Safety Committee overseeing CDCr, and demand the following government actions be taken to remedy the decades of damage done to us:

  • That CDCr provide statewide men’s and women’s PTSDSC support groups modeled after the “Men’s’ Group” program we created at Salinas Valley State Prison Facility C, which has been approved by the administration – wardens, community resources managers (CRMs) – for our PTSDSC class and is only awaiting locating a sponsor to get started;
  • That CDCr allow all PTSDSC prisoners to go through this six-month relief program at their respective GP locations;
  • That CDCr provide effective in-service training of staff in fairly and respectfully dealing with PTSDSC class members, including in appeals, disciplinary and medical matters;
  • That CDCr adopt all recommendations in the 2017 report of the Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Lab at Stanford University, detailing the ongoing negative health consequences that Ashker class members have suffered following their release from long-term solitary confinement into GP:
    • Provide peer-facilitated support groups for all PTSDSC class members; and
    • Provide independent psychiatric care for all PTSDSC class members to receive PTSDSC mental and emotional health and psychological services in this form.
  • That Gov. Brown and the California legislature order the Board of Parole Hearings to stop denying our PTSDSC class members who are serving life sentences a fair opportunity to be released home, thereby doubly punishing and torturing us because we were unlawfully kept in solitary confinement without due process and exercised our constitutionally protected right to peacefully protest with hunger strikes to be released, refusing to debrief and become their snitches.

In struggle!

Prisoner Human Rights Movement

©Dec. 1, 2017, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Baridi J. Williamson. Send our brothers some love and light: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (R.N. Dewberry), C-35671, and Baridi J. Williamson, D-34288, SVSP C-118, P.O. Box 1050, Soledad CA 92960.

[i] See “CDCR Task Force Report on Gangs, Violence and SHU,” 1986, citing CDCr’s 1971 “Report to Gov. Ronald Reagan on Revolutionary Organizations”

[ii] Same as above

[iii] See “Melancholy History of Soledad Prison,” by Min Yee

[iv] See case of W.L.Nolen, et al. vs. Fritzgerald, Warden of Soledad Prison (1969)

[v] See Madrid v. Gomez (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D.Cal., no. c-90-3094), 889 F.Supp. 1146 (1995)

[vi] See Madrid, above, at footnote 5

[vii] See article, “Potty Watch: PBSP Human Rights Violations” by the Freedom & Justice Project, published in Prison Focus April 2011

[viii] See Madrid

[ix] See PBSP SHU prisoners’ letters and interviews, Pelican Bay Information Project (PBIP)

[x] See 2017 Stanford University lab report by the Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Lab, detailing the ongoing negative health consequences Ashker class members have suffered following their release from long-term solitary confinement into the general prison population.

[xi] Ashker v. Brown, class action (U.S.N.D.Cal. no. 09-cv-05796-CW) settlement 2015

[xii] Walker, Taylor, “Two Years After End of Indefinite Solitary in CA, CDCR Violating Terms Of Settlement, and Inmates Experiencing Lasting Psychological Effects, Says Center For Constitutional Rights,” 11/22/17, WitnessLA, witnessla.com

[xiii] See Brown v. Oregon Dept. of Corrections, 751 F.3d 983, 988 (9th Cir. 2014)

Don’t let CDCR reverse our hunger strike-won legal victory: Statement of prisoner representatives on second anniversary of Ashker v. Brown settlement

From: SF Bayview:
STATEMENT OF PRISONER REPRESENTATIVES ON SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF ASHKER V. BROWN SETTLEMENT

Oct 14, 2017 marks the 2 year anniversary of the approval of the Ashker settlement. We celebrate our victory in the Ashker case, in which virtually all of the over 1600 prisoners then languishing in indeterminate SHU were released to General Population. This victory was achieved through 3 hunger strikes and the non-violent legal and political action of thousands of California prisoners, their families, supporters, and their attorneys.

However, unfortunately our general monitoring is due to run out after two years unless the Court grants an extension. We believe that CDCR is still engaged in constitutional violations that deny prisoners due process and seeks to put us back in the hole, for many, indeterminately under the guise of Administrative SHU. Our attorneys will seek an extension of the agreement due to CDCR’s systemic violations of the constitution. We don’t know what the court will do, but we do know that prisoners and their families have to re-energize our human rights movement to fight against the continuing violations of our rights. Examples are:

· CDCR’s continued misuse of Confidential Information to place prisoners back in the SHU, particularly with bogus conspiracy charges;

· The lack of out of cell time, programming and vocational programs in Level 4 prisons. The last letter of CDCR stands for rehabilitation, and there is almost no rehab programs and opportunities in the level 4 prisons. They function like modified SHUs;

· The denial of parole to lifers and Prop 57 prisoners who have clean records simply because of old, unconstitutional gang validations and CDCR’s illegally housing us in SHU for years;

· The turning of the Restrictive Custody General Population Unit which was supposed to be a GP unit where prisoners who had real safety concerns could transition to regular GP, into a purgatory where the only way out is to either debrief or die;

· CDCR promulgation of new regulations which gives the ICC discretion to put people back in the SHU, allows for many prisoners to be placed in the future in indeterminate Administrative SHU, or to be placed in the RCGP on phony safety concerns.

We must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to. We need all prisoners – young and old -to make our collective outcry public to ensure that the victory that we have won is not reversed by CDCR behind closed doors. Ultimately, we are the ones who are responsible for leading the struggle for justice and fair treatment of prisoners. That is why we entered into the historic Agreement to End Hostilities, and why it is so important that the prisoner class continue to stand by and support that agreement. We cannot allow our victories to be nullified by CDCR’s abuse of power, and may have to commit ourselves to non-violent peaceful struggle if CDCR continues on its present path.

We need everyone- prisoners, their families and the public – to send comments on CDCR’s proposed regulations to staff@aol.ca.gov, send emails and letters urging Gov Brown to sign Assembly Bill 1308, make sure that prisoner complaints about unfair treatment are publicized, and to work together to rebuild our prisoners human rights movement.

We cannot let CDCR increase its use of prolonged solitary confinement either by misusing confidential information to place prisoners in SHU on phony conspiracy charges, or through increasing the use of Administrative SHU. As the Supreme Court stated over one hundred years ago in the 1879 case of Wilkerson v. Utah , it is “safe to affirm that punishment of torture…and all others in the same line of unnecessary cruelty are forbidden by that [the Eighth] Amendment.” The admired historian Howard Zinn noted the application of that decision to the modern SHU: “All we need then, is general recognition that to imprison a person inside a cage, to deprive that person of human companionship, of mother and father and wife and children and friends, to treat that person as a subordinate creature, to subject that person to daily humiliation and reminder of his or her own powerlessness in the face of authority… is indeed torture and thus falls within the decision of the Supreme Court a hundred years ago.”

Sitawa (S/N Ronnie Dewberry), Arturo Castellano, Todd Ashker, George Franco

Via CFASC – https://familyunitynetwork.org/cfasc/

Sitawa: Exiting solitary confinement – and the games CDCr plays

Published in the SF Bayview, December 29, 2016

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

It is very important that you all clearly understand the depth of human torture to which I was subjected for 30-plus years by CDCr and CCPOA.* The torture was directed at me and similarly situated women and men prisoners held in Cali­fornia’s solitary confinement locations throughout CDCr, with the approval and sanc­tioning of California governors, CDCr secretaries and directors, attorneys general, along with the California Legislature for the past 40 years.

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa hugs his sister, Marie Levin, for the first time in 31 years. For 31 years, he never felt a friendly touch. He says that as he hugged his sister, he thought of the 16 close family members he had lost during those years, including his mother, in 2014.

They have al­lowed for their own citizens – prisoners – to suffer horrible crimes with their systematic process of physically and mentally killing prisoners for de­cades, with no regard for human life.

I was placed in solitary confinement – the SHU – on May 15, 1985, on trumped-up, illegal and fabricated state documents by two leading CDCr lieutenants, Criminal Activity Coordinator (CAC) Lt. L.O. Thomas and Lt. Suzan Hubbard of North Block Housing (NBH) at San Quentin State Prison. Yes, these two leading lieutenants removed me from San Quentin general population, not for alleged criminal acts or rule violations, but for the politics of the revolutionary New Afrikan political organization and the beliefs and cultural views of the New Afrikan revolutionary leftist organization titled the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF).

I was targeted by CDCr prison officials at San Quentin during 1983 on up until I was removed from the gener­al population (GP) and housed in San Quentin’s Control Units within their solitary confinement housing building, North Housing Unit (NHU). The sole reason for my housing there was that I was educating all New Afrikan prisoners on San Quentin’s GP about our rich New Afrikan history behind California prison walls and across the United States.

I was teaching them that we as a people shall not be forced to deny ourselves the rights in the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution. Yes, I person­ally believe that every New Afrikan woman and man has the right to protest any CDCr Jim Crow or Black Code-type rules or laws which violate our human rights as a person or prisoner.

And so I was educating my people to our civil rights and human rights in the California prison system during the 1980s while I was within the GP. I continued to educate my people, the New Afrikan nation, when I was placed in solitary confinement from 1983 to Oct. 11, 2015. It was a tragedy for three decades – yes, 30-plus years I was forced to suffer all forms of torture and witness killings of human life at the hands of CDCr officials and staff for decades, aided and abetted by governors, stakeholders, the Legislature, CDCr directors and secretaries etc.

The New Afrikan Prisoner Government (NAPG) has suffered and endured the violent attacks upon our prisoner community for decades on all levels and functions at the hands of CDCr employees. We have a U.S. constitutional right to resist any form of tor­ture, repression and violations of both our human and civil rights.

I was placed in the SHU, not for alleged criminal acts or rule violations, but for the politics of the revolutionary New Afrikan political organization and the beliefs and cultural views of the New Afrikan revolutionary leftist organization titled the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF).

I shall not be found among the broken men and women! I shall live and die a warrior for our New Afrikan Nation and humanity!

After being transferred from CDCr’s solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay SHU to its Tehachipi SHU during the period of July 10-17, 2014, including a layover in the hellish Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation) unit at Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI), it would not take long before the CDCr officials at CCI (Tehachapi) would show their collective scheme to have me assassinated as the New Afrikan principal negotiator plaintiff in the Ashker v. Brown class action lawsuit.

During our peaceful protest by the solitary confinement prisoner class (SCPC) against Steps 3 and 4 of the CDCr-CCI Step Down Program (SDP), we collectively stopped participating in the dysfunctional SDP at CCI-Tehachapi Prison on May 11, 2015. This was because the SDP has been violating our SCPC liberty interest arising from the Due Process Clause itself, and CDCr had to stop its SDP from imposing stigmatizing classifications and concomitant behavior modification. I realize now that the SDP between 2012 and 2015 violated our constitutional rights, and it still does.

In an obviously sinister campaign to undermine the collective solidarity of our historic Agreement to End Hostilities, these officials tried to manipulate the other racial groups supporting the AEH to turn against me.

First, SHU Counselor Vanessa Ybarra went to one of our 16 Prisoner Human Rights Movement representatives, Gabriel Huerta, and tried to get him and other reps to turn against me, asking Huerta, “Why do you all let that Black inmate speak for you all during this boycott of the Step Down Program? My supervisors want to know.” Correctional Counselor II B. Snider, Capt. P. Matzen, Associate Warden J. Gutierrez, Chief Deputy Warden W. Sullivan, Chief Deputy Warden Grove and Warden Kim Holland are the supervisors she was referring to.

However, things did not go as planned because Brother Gabriel saw right through what this counselor and her supervisors were trying to do in creating a hostile, antagonistic atmosphere and consensus against me by my peers. First, Gabriel asked the counselor, “Who are you talking about?” Then the counselor replied, “Dewberry.” Dewberry is my given last name.

And Gabriel told that counselor, “Dewberry is one of the four principal negotiators who represent the Prisoner Human Rights Movement’s prisoner SHU class. And he is one of the main plaintiffs in the Ashker v. Brown class action lawsuit against CDCr, and he has been speaking on behalf of prisoners from 2010 to right now and he speaks for our best interests as our prin­cipal prisoner negotiator!” The counselor turned around and walked out of the sallyport area.

In an obviously sinister campaign to undermine the collective solidarity of our historic Agreement to End Hostilities, these officials tried to manipulate the other racial groups supporting the AEH to turn against me.

Next, the second attempt was by another SHU counselor from 4B building named Vaca, who approached the PHRM representative and other prisoners, then said, “You prisoners should go back to participating in the Step Down Program or all of you who are boycotting the SDP will not be released to the general population this year (2015) or next year (2016), all because you are listening to that Black prisoner.”

When Gabriel Huerta asked Vaca, “What Black prisoner are you referring to?” the counselor responded, “I’m talking about Dewberry. By the way, Huerta, since when do you Mexicans follow what this Black prisoner says?” The Rep refused to play into that old CDCr manipulation game and terminated the conversation by telling the counselor, “You can take me back to my cell,” and left.

This collage for an article in support of the hunger strike leaders shows Sitawa in 2012 and in 1988, when he was known as Ronnie Dewberry. – Photo: Adithya Sambamurthy, CIR

So neither of the attempts worked, because Brother Gabriel recognized what time it was. He summed it up in these words: “CDCr had been manipulating and playing us against each other in the past. They can’t do that any longer.”

This life-threatening CDCr campaign leading up to my release out of SHU in October 2015 would be followed by the unprofessional, illegal attitudes and actions by CDCr employees awaiting me as I entered the general population. It was necessary to understand their motives in their dealings with and around me.

Upon my preparing to allegedly be released to general population, I was notified on Aug. 11, 2015, that I would be attending my first Institutional Classification Committee (ICC) hearing in over 30 years which had any meaning. Let’s put this “ICC” into perspective as to why these ICC hearings now have merit for the solitary confinement prisoner class (SCPC).

We the SCPC had to take our struggle to the streets of this world by participating in three non-violent peaceful protests. In the first, commencing July 1, 2011, a total of 6,600 woman and men participated. And when CDCr failed to honor the agreements made to end it, we the SCPC were compelled to enter our second non-violent peaceful protest on Sept. 26, 2011, in which a total of 12,600 men and women participated across this state.

CDCr begged for us to discontinue our protest and allow for them to make the necessary interdepartmental major changes which would release the longest held SCPC first. The four principal negotiators – Brutha Sitawa, Arturo Castellanos, Todd Ashker and George Franco – along with our 16 Pri­soner Human Rights Movement (PHRM) representatives decided to suspend our protest in mid-October 2011 and allow for CDCr to show their good faith efforts to reform their illegal solitary confinement policies, laws and rules and place all 10,000 SCPC women and men onto a fully functional general population by Feb. 1, 2013.

We vowed to resume our protest to death or until CDCr negotiates with us in a real way. Yes, on Feb. 1, 2013, the four principal negotiators announced to our tormentors – CDCr, the governor, the Legislature, the attorney general and stakeholders – that we would resume our protest on July 8, 2013, being that CDCr wants to wage their war of attrition against me and similarly situated SCPC.

We the SCPC had to take our struggle to the streets of this world by participating in three non-violent peaceful protests.

On July 8, 2013, we entered into the largest hunger strike in prison history. Some 30,000 prisoners participated and our just cause forced Gov. Brown, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, all CDCr secretar­ies between 2010 and 2016 and their stakeholders, who all had the current data, to recognize the torturous conditions we SCPC had to endure for decades. I was one of thousands held at Pelican Bay, and I don’t want another woman, man or child to be forced to suffer what I went through. We SCPC observed and suffered the cruel and devasta­ting harm caused by CDCr.

On Aug. 11, 2015, I was approached by Building 8 Correctional Counselor I Vaca at approximately 8:25 a.m. at my cell door for the sole purpose of preparing my central files for possible release to a general population. Vaca informed me that I am the first solitary confinement prisoner class member whose case files he is currently reviewing and that I am scheduled to appear before a full ICC on Aug. 19, 2015.

Now, within a two-hour time period, this same counselor, Vaca, appeared at my cell door with a sinister smirk on his face suggesting that I could now appear before this ICC hearing “tomorrow,” Aug. 12, 2015.

Counselor Vaca was too enthusiastic for me to attend the earlier hearing, so I told Vaca, “I’ll stick to the original schedule date of Aug. 19, 2015,” instead of his suggested new schedule. This counselor was upset at me for sticking with the original ICC hearing date, which was very strange to me and it warranted me to reflect upon his previous misconduct of trying to manipulate and influence other California racial groups – Southern Mexican, White and Northern Mexican – to breach our Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH).

I was one of thousands held at Pelican Bay, and I don’t want another woman, man or child to be forced to suffer what I went through. We SCPC observed and suffered the cruel and devasta­ting harm caused by CDCr.

Vaca had personally tried to have a leading prisoner of each racial group to silence – assassinate – my voice of prisoner activism directed at CDCr and CCI (Teha­chapi) officials. These veteran prisoners did not fall for Vaca’s tactics of divide and conquer; they stayed true to our Agreement to End Hostilities.

Now, on Aug. 12, 2015, Hugo Pinell was set up by CDCr officials at New Folsom Prison and killed [by white prisoners]. CDCr delayed my scheduled hearing for over a month and during said time period, three special agents came to interview me about the murder of Mr. Pinell. These three special agents pulled me out of my Tehachapi Prison cage for an interview on Aug. 14, 2016, two days after the murder of Mr. Pinell.

These agents were dispatched by CDCr Secretary Jeffrey Beard and then Undersecretary Scott Kernan [now Secretary Kernan] to come and interview me and two other New Afrikan prisoners and others. The concern that was expressed to me was, how do I feel about the death of Mr. Pinell and would there be an all-out war between the two racial groups?

These are my thoughts in relation to Mr. Pinell’s assassination and my release to a general population: I had expressed to these three special agents, first and foremost, “Why did you all travel from another part of California to speak with me about a death that I have no facts on other than listening to the radio?” I told said agents, “I shall be engaging myself in pushing the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH). Mr. Pinell would not want for us to enter into a war conflict, especially after we signed the AEH back on Aug. 12, 2012.

[Photo in original article: Over the three years of hunger strikes, as the prisoners were making the ultimate sacrifice, risking their lives for freedom from the tortures of indefinite solitary confinement, supporters outside held an astounding variety of demonstrations to win the world’s support. One of the most successful and dramatic was Occupy 4 Prisoners that brought hundreds to the San Quentin gate on Feb. 2, 2012. CHP tried to prevent anyone from attending by prohibiting parking within a mile and harassing the demonstrators marching to the rally. Marie Levin, as usual, was a major speaker; her husband Randy is at her side. – Photo: Bill Hackwell]

“And we, the PHRM, must see that our historical document, the Agreement to End Hostilities, remains firm to our cause and objectives, which are to radically change CDCr’s behavior directed at the Solitary Confinement Prisoner Class, and those of us who have been released to the general population are responsible for enforcing our AEH here behind the walls of California prisons and jails and to curb all community violence across this state outside of prison.

“You agents wasted a trip to come and speak with me. So, when you go back to report on my pro-AEH comments concerning Mr. Pinell’s murder, let your superiors – that is, Gov. Brown, CDCr Secretary Beard, Undersecretary Kernan and the chief of the Office of Correctional Safety (OCS) – know I shall request that you, CDCr, allow for us to be re­leased to the general population forthwith. For we have been held illegally for the past one to 40 years.”

These three special agents never did answer my question as to why did they travel from the state capital to the mountain of Tehachapi Prison to speak with me prior to my being released to the general population. It became a concern to me, be­cause I know that CDCr did not condone our AEH historical collective solidarity document and its objectives. This raised some serious questions in my mind as to why these government officials would direct these agents to interview me. A question they refused to answer.

As you all can imagine, I was suspicious at best about whether I could expect any good faith from CDCr supervisors, officials or staffers upon my release from Tehachapi Prison solitary confinement housing, head­ing toward Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP).

On Oct. 13, 2015, I arrived at SVSP receiving and release (R&R), and upon my exiting the CDCr transportation bus and entering the R&R, I was met by three Institution Gang Investigators (IGI), the welcoming crew awaiting me. I was then es­corted into a property storage room where it was only the four of us.

Now, these three IGI officers wanted to know my state of mind as it related to the assassi­nation of Mr. Hugo “Yogi” Pinell. I simply informed them that I will be pushing the AEH when I’m allowed to be released to the yard with all racial groups and especially with all of my New Afrikan Prisoner Government (NAPG) and ex­plain to all people the importance of the AEH and that I personally signed off on that historical document. Yes, the IGI made their usual threats.

Now, within the next 10 days, I was allowed to attend the exercising yard, where all of the Afrikan tribes embraced me as their own Big Brutha! As in all situations, I went into my political prisoner activism mode in changing this modified general population prison into an actual functional general population.

There is minimal change. The CCPOA (prison guards) have been doing everything in their power to stop, delay or hinder and obstruct prisoners from being afforded work assignments and real educational opportunity. We are denied full exercising yard hours, vocational trades, the same dayroom time as other 180-design prisoners.

Correctional officers and sergeants continue verbal harassment with their Green Wall attitudes. It is clear that the above-mentioned CDCr employees have an ingrained dislike for all prisoners who are being released from California solitary confinement (SHU) chambers to CDCr modified general populations.

There is minimal change. The CCPOA (prison guards) have been doing everything in their power to stop, delay or hinder and obstruct prisoners from being afforded work assignments and real educational opportunity.

Now, just consider having to be faced with the above matters being denied to me and similarly situated prisoners, while preparing to have my first contact visit with my family in 30 years. Yes, I was compelled to close the lid on the jar and withhold all of this corruption and wrongdoing from my family.

Photo of Sitawa, Marie Levin, Randy her husband, 2016

Sitawa received his first contact visit from his sister Marie and her husband Randy, here on another visit, 2016

Upon my first visit to see my Queen, my sister, Marie A. Levin, and her husband, Randy Levin, my sister Marie left home in such a rush to come see me that she left her California ID at home, and I was unable to see her that Saturday, but I did have the opportunity to have a conversation with my brother-in-law. It was a great time for the two of us. Now, the following day, Sunday, I was able to see Marie and Randy together, without that thick shield of plexiglas between us.

Now, for the first time in my imprisonment, I was somewhat shaken to the inner core of this New Afrikan revolutionary nationalist man by a simple hug from my young­er sister, Queen Marie, during our October 2015 visit. A hug should be a natural form of affection between a brother and sister. However, while my sister was squeezing me so tightly, all I could think about during those moments was of the family members who died, and I will never be able to hug or speak with them again.

They include:

1) Stella, my cousin, who died in 1989;
2) Leon, my big brother, who died in 1991;
3) Steven, my nephew, 1994;
4) Morris, my uncle, 1994;
5) Tanner Birk, my uncle, 1995;
6) Tutter, my aunt, 1995;
7) Lonnie, my uncle, 1995;
8) Hillard Jr., my uncle, 1997;
9) Ardis, my cousin, 1997;
10) Ardis Sr., my uncle, 2002;
11) Bobbie Dean, my cousin, 2004;
12) Clifton, my uncle, 2009;
13) James “Ba-ba,” my cousin, 2009;
14) Carol, my big sister, 2010;
15) Nathan, my cousin, 2010; and
16) Queen Mama, lost April 28, 2014.

Another rally that not only garnered support from outside but raised spirits inside was at Corcoran Prison in the Central Valley on July 13, 2013, during the last hunger strike, where the prisoners were suffering the summertime heat combined with gnawing hunger. On a “solidarity fence,” notes composed of quotes from some of the leading strikers were pinned to a fence to inspire the demonstrators. This is a quote from Sitawa.

Each one of them was denied the right and opportunity to physically touch me for over 30 years illegally, due to my political and cultural beliefs – three decades for a “thought crime,” which did not exist. Yet, my family members who have died never having had the opportunity to sit and touch me for decades, because CDC and CDCr chose to make attempts at destroying me physically and psychologically for no other purpose than to break my mind and spirit and those of similarly situated prisoners held within CDCr’s solitary confinement – Ad Seg, SHU etc.!

This is just a window into what we prisoners had to suffer for decades by order of our tormentors – CDCr – and it continues to this day within the realm of CDCr modified general population. Our struggle for justice, equality and human rights continues.

We need the support of all people in California and the world to stop the in­justice we suffer at the hands of CDCr officials and especially by the CCPOA and their ilk.

I would be extremely irresponsible if I didn’t seek the support of my New Afrikan people – for example, Marie “FREE” Wright, Erykah Badu, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Hansen, John Legend, Beyonce Knowles Carter, Dominique DiPrima, Shauntae “DaBrat” Harris, Azadeh Zohrabi, Common, Gabrielle Union, Chrissy Teigen, Alicia Keyes, Lupita Nyong’o, Sanaa Hamri, Kellita Smith, Snoop Dogg, Serena Williams, Jamie Foxx, Janelle Nonee’, Sanaa Lathan, Dana “Queen Latifa” Owens, Keisha Cole, Danny Glover, Yolanda “YoYo” Whitaker, Maya Harrison, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Belafonte, Tatyana Ali, Tyress Gibson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett, Bryan “Baby” Williams, Shaun “Jay Z” Carter, and all sista and brutha entertainers across Oakland, the Bay Area and the country.

Yes, our New Afrikan Lives Matter here behind the enemy lines of California’s unjust prison system. On behalf of our New Afrikan prisoner community, I pray that you will show your support for our freedom campaigns and whatever you all can donate shall be greatly appreciated. Please send your donations to FREEDOM OUTREACH, P.O. Box 7359, Oakland, CA 94601-3023 or contact Maria Levin at levin1marie@gmail.com.

Send our brother some love and light: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, s/n R.N. Dewberry, C-35671, Salinas Valley State Prison C1-118, P.O. Box 1050, Soledad, CA 93960-1050, www.Sitawa.org.

*CDCr stands for the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation – the last word uncapitalized by many prisoners to signify how little rehab exists. CCPOA – California Correctional Peace Officers Association – is the guards’ union, which exerts great influence within CDCr and on state policy and legislation.

Report back from Prisoner Representatives’ first monitoring meeting with CDCR

From Center for Constitutional Rights
May 23, 2016

By Todd Ashker

At the beginning of this first meeting, it became clear that there was a misunderstanding about its function.  CDCR thought the meeting was for us to listen to them.  Why would we put a term into our Settlement that would have us listen to them?  We listen to them every second of our lives.  We see the purpose of these calls as an opportunity for us to be heard and to have a discussion with people in authority.

Despite this initial confusion, we were able to lead the meeting. CDCR got unfiltered information from prisoners who know what is going on in their prison cells and yards.  We are a leadership group the CDCR knows.  They know we have integrity.  The information we shared at the meeting came not only from the experiences of us four main reps, but also from the other veterans of the SHU, members of our class who have written and met with our attorneys.

We raised in strong terms that some of us who have made it to General Population yards are essentially in modified SHUs (Security Housing Units), in some respects worse than Pelican Bay SHU, although in some respects better.   Conditions, policies and practices that we are experiencing in some of the General Population yards are not what we expected when we settled our case.  After spending decades in solitary we cannot accept many of these conditions.  Too many prisoners are simply warehoused, and there are not enough jobs or programs to give us skills, engage our minds and prepare us to return to our communities.  Guards need training in ‘professional’ behavior.   Bullying and humiliation should never be tolerated.

CDCR may have been surprised at the tenor, strength and substance of our approach.   We expect at the next meeting, we will all understand the agenda and purpose well ahead of time.   We also think a longer meeting will allow for a full discussion and useful interaction.  We hope CDCR officials come to welcome these historic meetings as useful because they will be if prisoners’ perspectives are heard, used and received by them.

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.