OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – California inmates who say they have spent decades in solitary confinement brought an amended federal complaint to end their “inhuman” punishment.
Conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison have allegedly deteriorated so badly that the inmates held two hunger strikes to raise awareness. Most of the named plaintiffs in the second amended class action say they participated in the strikes.
Their terms of solitary confinement have lasted between 11 and 28 years, according to the complaint in the Northern District of California.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the class, says prisoners in California’s security housing units (SHU) spend “twenty-two-and-a-half to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell.”
“They are denied telephone calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational or educational programming,” according to the complaint. “Food is often rotten and barely edible, and medical care is frequently withheld.”
The class says that more than 500 SHU prisoners at Pelican Bay have endured these conditions for over 10 years, “more than 200 of them for over 15 years; and 78 have been isolated in the SHU for more than 20 years.”
This kind of treatment is unconstitutional, the inmates say.
“The solitary confinement regime at Pelican Bay, which renders California an outlier in this country and in the civilized world, violates the United States Constitution’s requirement of due process and prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the most basic human rights prohibitions against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” the complaint states. “Indeed, the prolonged conditions of brutal confinement and isolation at Pelican Bay cross over from having any valid penological purpose into a system rightly condemned as torture by the international community.”
The prisoners’ attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights President Jules Lobel, released a statement that said the “conditions strip prisoners of their basic humanity and cross the line between human treatment and barbarity.”
California courts impose solitary confinement “based merely on a prisoner’s alleged association with a prison gang,” regardless of whether the prisoner participated in any gang activity, the prisoners say.
One of the named plaintiffs, George Ruiz has spent 22 years in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, “based on nothing more than his appearance on lists of alleged gang members discovered in some unnamed prisoners’ cells and his possession of allegedly gang-related drawings,” the complaint states.
The inmates seek a ruling that Pelican Bay’s solitary confinement practices are unconstitutional, and should end .
They sued California Gov. Jerry Brown; Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; Office of Correctional Safety Chief Anthony Chaus; and Pelican Bay State Prison Warden G.D. Lewis.