Advocates fear expansion of gang criteria could mean more SHU sentences
by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Oakland – The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has released its “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy,” which proposes new gang validation and Security Housing Unit (SHU) step down procedures. The document comes as a response to the historic prisoner hunger strikes which took place throughout the state of California in July and September of 2011.
The document proposes a three part step down process, which theoretically could lead to prisoners’ release from the SHU. In addition, the CDCR is recommending an expansion of the seven currently recognized prison gang affiliations to include other security threat groups, as well as redefining its current validation categories to include not only “member” and “associate,” but also “suspect” and “monitored” as possible ways prisoners’ activities could come under further surveillance.
“By expanding the number of prison groups affected by these policies, the proposed changes will expand the numbers of prisoners subject to long term solitary confinement,” says Carol Strickman, a lawyer working on behalf of the hunger strikers. “The result could be that more people than ever before will be housed under these torturous conditions.”
The proposal also claims that CDCR will be conducting a case-by-case review for SHU prisoners deemed to be in an existing Security Threat Group, which may mean their release from the SHU or transfer into one of the stages of the step down program. “This particular piece of the proposal marks a substantial gain won by the prisoners who risked their lives on hunger strike,” says Laura Magnani, interim regional director at the American Friends Service Committee and member of the mediation team working on behalf of striking prisoners. “It is also an opportunity for advocates and legislators to ensure that the CDCR conducts meaningful and unbiased reviews for these prisoners, resulting in a shrinking of the number of people currently housed in the SHU.”
The CDCR had previously stated that it would make a shift from association-based validation to behavior-based validation. However, the “Security Threat Group Prevention” document reveals that validation will still be based on a weighted point system that will include sources such as symbols, communications and tattoos.
“Overall this proposal shows that the CDCR is resisting both change and accountability,” says Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and also a hunger strike mediator. “They are using what could be a chance to actually reduce or eliminate the SHU altogether to create more opportunities to issue SHU sentences.”
The proposal has been released for stakeholder review which will reportedly include advocates, legislators and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. The Committee on Public Safety of California’s State Assembly will be holding a hearing on the proposal but has not yet announced a date.
“The biggest issue with the stakeholder review is that the most important stakeholders, the prisoners who have been validated and are currently in administrative segregation or the SHU, are not included,” says Jerry Elster, an organizer with All of Us or None. “It’s really essential that all of these guys get to comment on the proposal because this could mean significant changes for their daily lives.” The CDCR has not yet set a timeline for the review and has not said how they will take any comments into consideration when crafting new regulations.
The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition will continue to monitor this proposal and the review process. For updates, visit www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.
Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, is a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. He can be reached at (510) 444-0484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.