Death-Row Prisoners Challenge Conditions

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California holds death-row inmates in unconstitutional “extreme isolation” at San Quentin, six prisoners claim in a federal class action.
     Lead plaintiff Bobby Lopez sued for about 100 men held in “extreme isolation” at San Quentin State Prison’s “Adjustment Center,” one of three units that hold condemned men.
     All are classified “Grade B” prisoners, subjecting them to “stark and cruel deprivations,” including 21 to 24 hours per day in their cell, just three showers per week and lack of sleep due to constant suicide checks by jailers.
     Lopez claims that all condemned prisoners deemed to have gang affiliations are classified Grade, whether they were in a gang or not. He claims the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violates their constitutional rights by making them Grade B prisoners though they have not participated in gang activity at San Quentin.
     “The condemned unit has no process or quality control measures for assessing whether plaintiffs and the class remain active participants in prison gangs,” the complaint states. “As a result, plaintiffs and the class are often assessed as having gang allegiances because of their ethnicity and the region in which they grew up.”
     Though prison regulations require review of Grade B classification every 90 days, Lopez calls it a “meaningless and perfunctory process.” Though several plaintiffs have no disciplinary infractions at San Quentin, they are subjected to Class B restrictions anyway.
     Some plaintiffs organized a hunger strike in 2013 to protest conditions in the Adjustment Center and at other prisons throughout the country. They say the CDCR met with organizers to discuss their demands and then promptly issued them disciplinary citations for participating in the hunger strike.
     Plaintiffs say the state met none of their demands but used the hunger strike as a reason to keep them in the Adjustment Center indefinitely.
     They sued Gov. Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard and San Quentin Prison Warden Ronald Davis for cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and 14th Amendments.
     They seek class certification and an injunction ordering the CDCR to release them from the Adjustment Center or define their period of the confinement there, and to alleviate the inhumane conditions of the unit.
     They are represented by Dan Siegel of Oakland.
     The CDCR declined to comment on the case, saying only that it has not been served with a copy of the complaint.

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