by Carlos Alcalá
Sacramento – The Assembly Public Safety Committee, chaired by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, will hear Ammiano’s AB 1652 to control use of solitary confinement. The committee will meet Tuesday, April 8, at 9 a.m. in Room 126 of the State Capitol.
The bill comes out of a series of in-depth hearings held in the wake of prisoner hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013. The last hearing, in February, drew witnesses from as far as London, decrying the excessive use of isolation in Security Housing Units (SHUs) as an inhumane practice.
“California should be a leader in enlightened criminal justice,” Ammiano said. “Instead, right now we are a leader in this abusive practice. We have thousands of SHU prisoners, and hundreds of them have been in isolation for more than 20 years, even though international authorities say stays above a couple of weeks have lasting psychological effects. Other states are changing; California needs to reform this.”
Critics of the practice argue that it is not only a human rights violation, but it does little if anything to stem prison violence, though it costs California taxpayers millions of dollars. Moreover, most of these prisoners will ultimately be released when their sentences are completed. Long stays in solitary make it impossible for most of them to function productively in society.
A recently released United Nations report calls on the United States and individual states to impose “strict limits on the use of solitary confinement, both pretrial and following conviction, in the federal system, as well as nationwide, and abolish the practice in respect of anyone under the age of 18 and prisoners with serious mental illness.”
AB 1652 limits the violations and situations for which a prisoner can be placed in SHU. For those already in SHU under administrative (as opposed to punitive) placements, the bill would restore the ability for those with good behavior to earn credits to reduce sentences. Those credits had previously existed and would represent budget savings.
Expected to testify for the bill are Jesse Stout of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and Jim Lindburg of the Friends Committee on Legislation.
Carlos Alcalá, communications director for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, can be reached at (916) 319-2017 or Carlos.Alcala@asm.ca.gov.