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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Momentum in Solitary Confinement Case

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge allowed the Center for Constitutional Rights to file a supplemental complaint to a class action on behalf of hundreds of prisoners held in solitary confinement for more than a decade at California's Pelican Bay prison.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken tentatively granted the motion at a hearing in February.

The May 2012 lawsuit claims that prolonged solitary confinement - defined by the CCR as lasting more than 10 years - in state prisons Security Housing Units violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

In reaction to the prisoners' class certification, the California Department of Corrections began transferring many of the class members from Pelican Bay to the state prison at Tehachapi, where their solitary confinement continued, the CCR said.

The supplemental complaint will add the transferred prisoners to the original class action, claiming that "the cruel and unusual treatment they experienced in over ten years of isolation, and its debilitating effects, have not abated, but continue under a different name in a different prison."

The prison argued that the supplemental pleading was only tangentially related to the original claim, but Wilken ruled on Monday that "prolonged stays in SHU - no matter which SHU - may violate the Eighth Amendment." She found that the CCR convincingly alleged that the transferred prisoners "will continue to experience the physical and mental health effects of being housed in solitary confinement for more than a decade."

Wilken said the supplemental complaint would be the more judicially efficient route, as opposed to filing a separate complaint for the transferred prisoners.

She also ruled that the appointed class representatives who were at Pelican Bay at the time of the original suit may continue to represent the class, even though they were transferred elsewhere, since "it would be inconvenient to have to find a new named plaintiff every time defendants move a named Plaintiff out of Pelican Bay's SHU."

The case will go to trial on Dec. 7.

The class is represented by Jules Lobel, the CCR's president.

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