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Judge approves expanding class action suit against solitary confinement to include prisoners transferred out of Pelican Bay

February 13, 2015

by Katherine Proctor, Courthouse News

San Francisco (CN) – A federal judge tentatively granted a motion by the Center for Constitutional Rights to file a supplementary complaint to its class action on behalf of hundreds of prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay prison.

Prisoners who have managed to survive a decade or more of solitary confinement torture are symbolized in this drawing, “Pelican Bay SHU 2.” SHU prisoners tend to produce extraordinary written and art work, their high intelligence considered a threat to the system by prison officials. – Art: Chris Carrasco, D-96045, PBSP SHU D7-119, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

Prisoners who have managed to survive a decade or more of solitary confinement torture are symbolized in this drawing, “Pelican Bay SHU 2.” SHU prisoners tend to produce extraordinary written and art work, their high intelligence considered a threat to the system by prison officials. – Art: Chris Carrasco, D-96045, PBSP SHU D7-119, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

The May 2012 lawsuit claims that prolonged solitary confinement in state prisons’ Security Housing Units violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment and that the prisons’ lack of meaningful review for such placement violates Fifth Amendment guarantees of due process.

The Center for Constitutional Rights defined prolonged solitary confinement as lasting more than 10 years.

CCR president Jules Lobel said in the Thursday hearing that 240 Pelican Bay prisoners fall into this category.

Lobel asked U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken for permission to amend the complaint to add a class of prisoners recently transferred under the state’s Step Down Program from solitary confinement at Pelican Bay to solitary confinement at the state prison at Tehachapi.

Adriano Hrvatin of the state’s Justice Department represented the prison. He argued that the CCR’s proposed class definition did not meet requirements of commonality and typicality, since “inmates are going to fall in and out of the class with the passage of time.”

Lobel responded that though prolonged solitary confinement is not always a permanent state, it “causes lasting, permanent damage to the person,” and there must be a “procedural mechanism” to make prisoners’ claims heard, even if they are transferred or released.

He also argued that the class representatives, once designated, should be allowed to continue to represent the class even if they cease to be one of the class’s members.

Wilken responded that attorneys in similar past situations have simply found new class representatives.

Wilken proposed that the trial be bifurcated – a trial in December to determine whether the Pelican Bay prisoners’ confinement was cruel and unusual and, if it was found to be so, the CCR would then file the supplementary complaint.

The CCR intends to file for summary judgment on July 2.

Pelican Bay is a “supermax” prison in Crescent City.

This story originally appeared on Courthouse News.

4 thoughts on “Judge approves expanding class action suit against solitary confinement to include prisoners transferred out of Pelican Bay

  1. serious2020

    A question here:

    "The Center for Constitutional Rights defined prolonged solitary confinement as lasting more than 10 years."

    10 years?

    Why is the ceiling so high?

    Solitary confinement involves extreme sensory deprivation, and in my mind, even hours is too much….!

    Just a question, from a lay person's perspective.

    Reply
  2. loismarshall

    I agree with serious2020. The 10 year ceiling is way too high. Stuart Grassian, MD has stated in his scholarly paper, Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement, "Indeed, even a few days of solitary confinement will predictably shift the electroencephalogram (EEG) pattern toward an abnormal pattern
    characteristic of stupor and delirium."
    This is a barbaric punishment which was recognized as unacceptable for more than a brief time in the 19th century! Don't you think that, in the 21st century, we should be more advanced than this?

    Reply
  3. LC DeVine

    Solitary confinement is a cruel and unusual punishment system and should be banned and outlawed in this country. Putting a person in the hole for a few days is one thing, but locking these individuals up for months, years, and decades is cruel and then further creating an internal system in the prison to keep them in there must stop. The lie about prison security is unreasonable, if a person has not done anything to cause bodily harm to others there is 'no reason what-so-ever' that they are a threat to the security of the prison. These officials and their guards need to be made to do what they are paid for with taxpayers dollars, which is to rehabilitate these individual so they can be better citizens not torture them. These individuals subjective to solitary confinement are being made worse off then they were before. [If they were dogs instead of human beings the humane society would have had this situation shut down years ago]. How can you put a human being in a windowless, cold caged, deprived of nature light, fed him/her crap, remove all verbal communication–not only from those around him/her, but more importantly their families, handcuff them when ever you allow them out the cage, [even dogs are allowed to run free], then constantly torment them by raiding their cages, which doesn't make sense to me since the only people they are coming in contact with is the guards. These inmate loss all sense of self-sufficiently by not being able to work, increase their education and ability to prepare to be productive citizens. For those that have been subject to this monstrosity should be rewarded damages like others would in society if something of this nature occurred to them. Is is just unbelievable this is going on in 2015, in the supposedly greatest country in the world that set the standards for the rest!

    Reply
  4. Anne Leonard

    The 10 year cap for cruel and unusual punishment was agreed to at the first hearing on this class action suit in federal court in Oakland. Usually a time limit like this, which was agreed to by all parties, has to do with a long-time legal background in other cases, and pretty much has to follow past decisions. It probably has some basis on psychological studies, which are as noted in previous posts, variable as to the length of time it takes for damage to be done. The time limit also has to do with what the prisoners' lawyers and the liberal judge in Oakland thought would be the most the CDCR would swallow. So, probably most of it has to do with the past legal history of long term lock down. I was as the first hearing, but can't remember exact passages of discussion. This lawsuit is the best these guys are going to get–it's amazing they got this far.

    Reply

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