by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS)
On Feb 8, 2018, Northern District Judge Vince Chhabria held a hearing on a motion by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to dismiss civil rights lawsuits brought by two prisoners, Christopher Lipsey and Maher Suarez, who are suing CDCR for violation of their Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment.
Specifically, they have brought their lawsuits to put an end to the sleep deprivation of prisoners caused by “security/welfare checks.” Prison guards conduct these checks in solitary confinement units throughout the state every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. Prisoners report that the checks are loud, disruptive and abusive.
Judge Chhabria was critical of CDCR and began Thursday’s hearing by saying he thought California was getting rid of solitary confinement. He then questioned why the plaintiffs are being held in isolation. Judge Chhabria showed no indication that he would dismiss the cases or that he thought dismissal was appropriate. He also asked CDCR attorneys if it seems to them to be a “very serious problem” for people in solitary, already under extreme psychological stress and some with mental illness, to be awakened every half hour at night.
Because the “security/welfare checks” result from a stipulated order in Coleman v. Governor of California, a case in the Eastern District Court, on Friday, Feb. 9, Judge Chhabria, as he indicated he would do at Thursday’s hearing, transferred the cases to be heard by Judge Mueller. Judge Mueller oversees the Coleman consent decree, which mandates adequate mental healthcare for prisoners.
This makes three civil rights cases brought by prisoners regarding harm from the “security/welfare checks” that have been transferred to the Eastern District. On Thursday, Judge Chhabria questioned the state’s contradictory positions in those cases; in some motions, the state claims the “checks” cannot be challenged by prisoners because they were decided on in Coleman, and other times the state argues that the cases should not be decided by the Coleman judge. Attorneys from McKool Smith Hennigan, representing Lipsey and Suarez, wrote, “Inmate Plaintiffs are harmed by Defendants’ inconsistency, because it allows Defendants to claim that no judge is ever the right judge to hear these cases.”
Around 40 community members and advocates with the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition held a press conference and rally on Thursday, Feb. 8, in front of the Federal Building in support of the prisoners’ cases. One person suffering from the checks said in a letter to a Coleman official: “I ask you to listen to the voices of us prisoners and call for the immediate cessation of these ‘welfare/security’ checks that don’t check on anything, but which make our lives a living hell.”
The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition asks you to help end the sleep deprivation by joining the prisoners’ call to end the checks.
“I ask you to listen to the voices of us prisoners and call for the immediate cessation of these ‘welfare/security’ checks that don’t check on anything, but which make our lives a living hell.”
If you know someone in solitary in a California prison (Ad-Seg, ASU, SHU, PSU or Condemned Units, death row), please print and send this survey to them. They can write the PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation and send their survey responses to us, also.
Learn more and get involved, at https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/.