Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights has announced that the parties to Ashker v. Brown, the case challenging indefinite solitary confinement in California, have reached a settlement. According to CCR's press release,
Today, the parties have agreed on a landmark settlement in the federal class action Ashker v. Governor of California that willeffectively end indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in all California state prisons. Subject to court approval, the agreement will result in a dramatic reduction in the number of people in solitary across the state and a new program that could be a model for other states going forward. The class action was brought in 2012 on behalf of prisoners held in solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay prison, often without any violent conduct or serious rule infractions, often for more than a decade, and all without any meaningful process for transfer out of isolation and back to the general prison population. Ashker argued that California’s use of prolonged solitary confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and denies prisoners the right to due process.
. . .
Today’s settlement transforms California’s use of solitary confinement from a status-based system to a behavior-based system; prisoners will no longer be sent to solitary based solely on gang affiliation, but rather based on infraction of specific serious rules violations. It also limits the amount of time a prisoner can spend in the Pelican Bay SHU and provides a two-year step-down program for transfer from SHU to general population.
The agreement creates a new non-solitary but high-security unit for the minority of prisoners who have been held in any SHU for more than 10 years and who have a recent serious rule violation. They will be able to interact with other prisoners, have small-group recreation and educational and vocational programming, and contact visits.
The full details of the settlement are available here.
This is a major victory for those of us who have been fighting against indefinite solitary confinement for many years--especially the inmates, who have participated in two hunger strikes to protest against the physical and psychological harms associated with this practice. It is also remarkable that, in an era in which such struggles often take the shape of bipartisan financial improvements, this struggle was fought as an old-skool human rights pursuit, and ended in an impressive and important victory. The statement from the plaintiffs reads as follows:
This settlement represents a monumental victory for prisoners and an important step toward our goal of ending solitary confinement in California, and across the country. California’s agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action. This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters. Our movement rests on a foundation of unity: our Agreement to End Hostilities. It is our hope that this groundbreaking agreement to end the violence between the various ethnic groups in California prisons will inspire not only state prisoners, but also jail detainees, county prisoners and our communities on the street, to oppose ethnic and racial violence. From this foundation, the prisoners’ human rights movement is awakening the conscience of the nation to recognize that we are fellow human beings. As the recent statements of President Obama and of Justice Kennedy illustrate, the nation is turning against solitary confinement. We celebrate this victory while, at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle. We are fully committed to that effort, and invite you to join us.
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa