Death Row prisoners challenge torturous conditions in San Quentin’s ‘Adjustment Center’

Prisoners indefinitely housed in Adjustment Center allege violations of 8th and 14th Amendments

San Quentin’s dreaded Adjustment Center, where George Jackson made his last stand
San Quentin’s dreaded Adjustment Center, where George Jackson made his last stand

San Quentin – Six condemned men living in extreme isolation in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center filed a class action lawsuit today seeking to end the inhumane and degrading conditions in which they are confined and challenging the complete absence of meaningful procedures by which they are placed and retained in those conditions.

The class action lawsuit asserts violations of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiffs also assert that the denial by CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) of any meaningful review of their assignment to the Adjustment Center violates their right to due process granted by the 14th Amendment.

Approximately 100 prisoners – out of the 750 men condemned to death in California – are confined in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center. There, they are confined alone in windowless cells for up to 24 hours a day.

Approximately 100 prisoners – out of the 750 men condemned to death in California – are confined in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center alone in windowless cells for up to 24 hours a day.

Plaintiffs and the class suffer the deleterious mental and physical effects of extreme isolation and deprivation of basic needs including adequate recreation, sleep, sunlight and human contact. Adjustment Center prisoners receive no educational or vocational programming. Plaintiffs are not allowed to make phone calls, and all visits occur in booths that separate the prisoner from his loved ones and deny any physical contact.

Plaintiffs are sentenced to this fate not as a court-imposed punishment for their criminal convictions but as an administrative assignment for their alleged affiliation with prison or streets gangs. California is the only state that subjects prisoners to these isolating and inhumane conditions for extended periods of time based solely on alleged gang affiliation.

California is the only state that subjects prisoners to these isolating and inhumane conditions for extended periods of time based solely on alleged gang affiliation.

CDCR assesses this affiliation by a process that relies primarily on prison informants and does not require actual evidence that a prisoner has participated in gang activity. Nightmarishly, once confined in the Adjustment Center, plaintiffs are denied any meaningful review of the factors that condemned them to await the execution of their sentence in brutal isolation.

The use of solitary confinement for even short periods is under great scrutiny worldwide. Isolation for as few as 15 days is widely accepted to cause irreversible psychological harm, and confinement in those conditions beyond 15 days is considered torture under international law.

California is an outlier in the sheer length of time prisoners spend on death row. The average prisoner will spend nearly 25 years completing the appeals of his sentence. As a result, the men indefinitely confined in the Adjustment Center are faced with the potential for a quarter of a century in isolation, without ever being able to feel the caring touch of another human being.

The men indefinitely confined in the Adjustment Center are faced with the potential for a quarter of a century in isolation, without ever being able to feel the caring touch of another human being.

This new lawsuit comes as the Pelican Bay State Prison class action lawsuit, Ashker v. Brown, which alleges similar constitutional violations for prisoners held for prolonged periods in Secure Housing Units around the state, is set to go to trial in December before federal Judge Claudia Wilken.

Read the entire complaint HERE.

To learn more, email emilyrose@siegelyee.com.  

Read more about the Adjustment Center from the people who are forced to live there: