HANDOUT MATERIALS for Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement

Reblogged on Californiaprisonwatch.org

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Beginning in April 2015, if you need copies sent to you of any of these materials for use in your actions, please contact phssreachingout@gmail.com.

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The above links allow you to download and print the two materials made specifically for anyone participating in Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (23rd of each month). Below are several download links for recommended materials to hand out during such actions.  Good educational materials. Coming soon: a handout of Frequently Asked Questions and the Answers, and all handouts in Spanish & English.

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Beginning March 23rd: Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

STOP THE TORTURE!

The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) has helped launch Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) to start Monday, March 23, 2015.

Actions will happen on the 23rd of each month.

This date emphasizes the 23 or more hours every day that people are kept in solitary confinement.

PHSS Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Prisoner-Hunger-Strike-Solidarity/117053298383319

Statewide Coordinated Actions every month respond to the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers’ Proposals (November, 2013). They stated:

We want to consider the idea of designating a certain date each month as Prisoner Rights Day. On that date each month prisoners across the state would engage in peaceful activities to call attention to prison conditions. At the same time our supporters would gather in locations throughout California to expose CDCR’s [CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] actions and rally support efforts to secure our rights. We can see this action growing…

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An End to Solitary is Long Overdue

California’s Savage System of Confinement

Less than two weeks ago the United Nations Committee against Torture issued a report strongly criticizing the U.S. record on a number of issues, among them the extensive use of solitary confinement. While the U.S. uses long-term solitary more than any other country in the world, California uses it more than any other state. It’s one of the few places in the world where someone can be held indefinitely in solitary. This practice is designed to break the human spirit and is condemned as a form of torture under international law.

Despite these repeated condemnations by the U.N., the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is harshening rather than easing its policies, currently with three new sets of regulations. The administration’s iron-fisted strategy is emerging: project the appearance of a reforming system while extending its reach, and restrict the ability of prisoners and their loved ones to organize for their rights.

First, the CDCR has instituted a “Step Down Program” ostensibly to create a pathway out of indefinite solitary. However, the program actually widens the net of who can be considered a threat and therefore eligible for placement in solitary. Recently adopted regulations replace the old language of “gang” with “Security Threat Group” (STG) and the previous list of a dozen identified gangs is now replaced with a dizzying list of over 1500 STGs. Under these new regulations, even family members and others outside the prisons can be designated as part of an STG. Given the fact that indefinite solitary is used disproportionately against people of color – in Pelican Bay, 85% of those in isolation are Latino – the language used to justify placement in solitary eerily mirrors the rhetoric of the federal government and its permanent state of war against its declared enemies, all of whom are people of color.

The CDCR promulgated a second set of rule changes last summer with sweeping new “obscenity” regulations governing mail going both in and out of prisons. The original proposal was to explicitly ban any “publications that indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society,” yet after coming under heavy criticism, CDCR decided to mask its Orwellian motives by hiding behind the above mentioned language of STGs. This ominous language violates First Amendment rights, and reveals a broader agenda: to censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, and to stifle the intellectual and political education and organizing of prisoners themselves.

A third element of CDCR’s strategy of containment is the implementation of highly intimidating visiting procedures designed to keep family members away from their loved ones. Draconian new visiting regulations authorize the use of dogs and electronic drug detectors to indiscriminately search visitors for contraband, even though both methods are notoriously unreliable. These procedures effectively criminalize family members and deter them from visiting, especially in a period of a growing family-led movement against solitary.

The three new policies are also intended to extend CDCR’s reach beyond the prison walls. As an organizer and family member of a prisoner, I’m censored when sending letters to my brother, Sitawa N. Jamaa, subjected to gratuitous and intimidating searches during visits, and susceptible to being labeled an STG associate. These are all ways that CDCR is trying to keep me from knowing how my brother and others are doing, and to repress my organizing.

Taken individually, these regulations may seem to address unrelated issues. But given they are all coming down simultaneously – just a year after the last of a series of historic hunger strikes by people in California prisons has given rise to the highest level of self-organization and empowerment among imprisoned people since the 1970s – these regulations are nothing less than a systematic attempt to silence and retaliate against prisoners’ growing resistance. Over 30,000 prisoners participated in 2013’s strike, some for 60 days, risking their health and lives for an end to indefinite solitary. Prisoners’ family members and loved ones also took up leadership roles in political organizing in unprecedented ways. The movement to abolish solitary continues to gain momentum around the country.

The hunger strikes were a significant part of an ongoing national sea change regarding the use of solitary, as states are waking up to its dangers. Illinois, Maine and Mississippi have closed or drastically downsized their solitary units without any loss of institutional safety. New York and Arizona were recently forced to reduce their use of isolation, with Colorado and New Jersey following suit.

Yet California steadfastly remains an outlier seemingly impervious to change, led by an administration that relies on tired rhetoric about “the worst of the worst” to justify torture. People locked up in California have a decades-long history of fighting for the rights and dignity of prisoners, affirming their humanity in the face of inhumane conditions and demanding change. The U.N. report calls on this government to “ban prison regimes of solitary confinement such as those in super-maximum security detention facilities.” It’s time for California to listen.

Marie Levin is the sister of Sitawa N. Jamaa, a prisoner in solitary confinement at Tehachapi. She is a member of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS).

Mohamed Shehk is the Media and Communications Director of Critical Resistance, and also contributed to this piece.

How torture is inflicted on prisoners in solitary confinement

February 24, 2014
Published in: SF Bay View

by Mutope Duguma and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

This is a glimpse into torture by prison staff, using any means available, of which solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison in California is only a reflection of the inhumane treatment and clear U.S. constitutional violations of our First, Fifth, Eighth and 14th Amendment rights that prisoners in solitary everywhere are subjected to.

Torture by deprivation

The objective of the deprivation method is not complicated. It is to attack the sensory organs and perception with methods to impair them. The weapon of deprivation cannot be effective without having in place a conditioning process to produce degeneration over a long period of time. The psychological, social and cultural trauma is observable in such a sterile and punitive environment.

Deprivation is cannibalistic for the spirit that is willing to stay the course. The flesh becomes weakened as men feed on themselves and others, eating away at human excellence. The feasting of deprivation will become more than flesh, blood or nature can endure. Indeterminate SHU confinement has left individuals with having to choose between discontinuity and becoming inflicted with a cannibalistic nature.

There are two aspects of deprivation, the psychological and the physical, where the mind acts upon the body. This two-edged torture can be effective either way. But in order for deprivation to eat away at the targeted prisoner’s consciousness, a conversion reaction must occur that breaks down the psychological defense mechanism.

Declaration on Protection from Torture

The “Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as Resolution 3452 (XXX) on Dec. 9, 1975. The declaration contains 12 articles, the first of which defines the term “torture” as

“any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating him or other persons.”

Types of torture

Medical: Honorable Judge Thelton Henderson ordered a receivership to oversee CDCr’s PBSP SHU due to intentional medical neglect which led to prisoners dying, as frequently as one a week, in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation system. Many of these deaths were, and continue to be, in solitary confinement. This is torture.

Solitary confinement: Prisoners are held in isolation for 10 to 40 years despite having only non-disciplinary infractions during that time. This is torture.

Mail: Prisoner mail is being used to create physical and psychological torment. Mail can be arbitrarily withheld for weeks on a regular basis, and has been known to be withheld for years, even when there are court orders to release the mail to a prisoner being unjustly deprived. This is torture.

Food: Food is intentionally prepared poorly, contaminated and disproportionate. Nutritional food is deliberately denied. This is torture.

No human contact: Prisoners have no real, meaningful social interaction with other human beings, especially family and close friends. Our five senses – touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste – become dulled from deprivation. This is torture.

Visiting: Constantly, under the CDCr gestapo style agency of correctional safety, the Investigative Service Unit (ISU) and Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) and other such units deliberately intimidate visitors and prisoners. This is torture.

Cell searches: These are used to intimidate, harass and trash prisoners’ cells, leaving them in disarray while taking political writings, pictures, manuscripts, books, pamphlets, magazines etc., causing psychological torment. This is torture.

No sanitation: Prisoners are deliberately kept in unsanitary units. For example, showers are allowed four times a week, but the showers are cleaned only twice a week. There is an abundance of mold, mice, bugs, gnats, fungus etc. This is torture.

Climate: Prisoners are kept in freezing cold or burning hot cells, depending on the time of year, a complaint that has been made for over 21 years. This is torture.

Contraband watch, or potty watch: It is humiliating, dehumanizing and outright cruel and unusual punishment when prisoners are held in shackles and placed in the middle of a hall while being placed on a portable “potty,” while cops (female too) and prisoners with escorts are walking by. There are reports of prisoners being placed in cages, without a toilet or running water. Men are placed in a diaper with a prison jumpsuit over it, while the victim’s hands are bound into a fist-wrap. PVC pipe forced onto arms and black boxes over the hands have also been used. The prisoner is required to defecate three separate times during a three-day period. The torment and suffering are truly visible on the prisoner’s face. This is done to cause severe humiliation, along with mental, physical and psychological torment. This is torture.

Family: Each validated prisoner’s family is deliberately harassed, intimidated and intentionally hoaxed into false prosecution for a thoughtless crime by gestapo-type units (OCS, ISU, SSU and IGI) with the intent of discouraging any support or communication with the prisoner. This is torture.

Grievances: The 602 appeal process, at each of its three levels is deliberately set up to not afford a prisoner relief, regardless of whether prison officials are dead wrong in their accusations. This clearly establishes that there is no accountability for what officials do to prisoners. This is torture.

In addition, the structural features of the various solitary confinement units throughout the U.S. prison industrial complex (PIC) make it possible to target specific prisoners by utilizing sensory deprivation to undermine the social, cultural and ethical values that the targeted prisoners hold. Prisoners are rare who can escape the ravages of the torture that results from long term isolation and the negative assaults by guards in any of California’s supermax control units and similar units all over the U.S.

This is torture.

The science behind the use of deprivations has been perfected by the handlers to operate with devastating force. We know there is no separation between physical torture and mental torture. Torture is a double-edged sword that can slice effectively either way to exact punishment or revenge. It has the purpose of taking away a targeted prisoner’s human dimension and essence.

This is torture.

Decades of “good behavior” not enough for prisoners in California’s SHU’s according to CDCR: Proposed policies include mandatory cognitive restructuring programs

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is proposing new regulations on “Security Threat Groups” (STG) or “gangs,” which will be implemented after a regular Public Hearing, to be held on April 3rd.  The Step-Down-Program, which CDCR has been executing in a pilot program, is apparently being implemented into CDCR’s vast number of regulations.
The implementation of the official Step-Down-Program comes while a second Legislative Hearing on February 11th has been organized, where CDCR’s “gang management” policies will be discussed, or as it is officially called on the agenda: “CDCRs Proposed New Policies on Inmate Segregation.” 
What is worrying about all these regulations and rules when we scan through them to see if there are any ameliorations for those inside the SHU’s  is, that CDCR keeps spinning the fact that human rights are being abused by keeping people inside lockdown units, in segregation, not only for months, but years, even decades on end, without there being any violent behavior by those people kept in these secure housing units. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, wrote a statement in 2013 in which he stated that these prison units can amount to “torture:” 

The independent investigator on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment urged the US authorities to ensure that “solitary confinement is only imposed, if at all, in very exceptional circumstances, as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and with established safeguards in place.” In Mr. Méndez’s view, “its application must be subject to independent review, and inmates must undergo strict medical supervision.”

One example of someone in one of the California SHU’s is Hugo Pinell, who has been incarcerated since 1964, and who has been in solitary confinement for four decades. He has not had any disciplinary infraction in 32 years. There is no reason to keep him in the Secure Housing Unit other than that CDCR is waging a war of propaganda against people like Pinell and so many others, for instance like the prisoners who started the 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes protesting indefinite solitary confinement, who have been critical and outspoken of the prison industrial complex. The latest news is that in early February of this year, Hugo Pinell was allowed to make a phone call to his family for the first time since 40 years…
Jeffrey Beard: This is not solitary confinement
In response to an increasing display of criticism on SHU-policies used by CDCR, Secretary Jeffrey Beard wrote an op-ed during the hunger strike in August of 2013, in which he made a few bold statements without documentation on which he based the quotes used.

Beard tried to portray the SHU’s in three prisons as having “windows in the cells that allow for direct sunlight.” He also wrote: 

“At Pelican Bay, all SHU cells have skylights. In all of the facilities, inmates in the SHU have radios and color TVs with access to channels such as ESPN. They have weekly access to a law library and daily exercise time. Many have cellmates; they can earn degrees; they can send and receive letters; and their family and friends can visit them every weekend. SHU inmates receive the same meals and portions as general population inmates. This is not “solitary confinement,” in that prisoners can have visitors and, in many cases, interaction with other inmates.”

Of course all the examples Beard mentions can be countered by the experiences of prisoners and their families and friends in their daily lives in the real prisons in California. But Beard, whose theories do not seem to be tested to real life in the SHU’s he directs, was hired by CDCR to provide spin and propaganda, countering claims of torture. His job is to see to it that CDCR gets its money and feeds its union members in the powerful CCPOA-lobby(California Correctional Peace Officers Association), which even pays Governor Jerry Brown so that he will do as the CCPOA tells him.
In a statement on CDCR Today, a blog which posts CDCR’s press releases, the following was also stated on August 26th 2013:

CDCR does not utilize “solitary confinement.” Additionally, the length of an indeterminate SHU assignment is now determined by individual inmate behavior. It is now possible for an indeterminate term to be reduced to 3-4 years. Moreover, STG associates will no longer be placed in a SHU based solely upon their validation.

Behavior
We can ask ourselves why a person in prison who has been without disciplinary infractions for 32 years, can’t be commended and should have been transferred to a place where he can have contact visits and a less harsh environment? This logical and humane thought was also one of the demands of the hunger strikers, who formulated 5 core demands, of which nr 1 is:

End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse – This is in response to PBSP’s application of “group punishment” as a means to address individual inmates rule violations. This includes the administration’s abusive, pretextual use of “safety and concern” to justify what are unnecessary punitive acts. This policy has been applied in the context of justifying indefinite SHU status, and progressively restricting our programming and privileges.

The response given by CDCR to this first of the core demands was:

Individual Accountability. Response. This issue has already been addressed through implementation and adoption of the STG and Step-Down programs.

But of course this short answer to the decades of torturous conditions in the SHU’s is a spin to make us all believe CDCR really listens to demands. In fact, CDCR has come up with a different idea of “behavior change:” Cognitive Restructuring, making the Step-Down-Program very long and without guarantees that people will actually be removed from these tortuous conditions. There are also no safeguards, such as an independent commission to oversee CDCR’s managing of their Step-Down-Programs.

Coercive journaling, or ‘Cognitive Restructuring’-propaganda

Under these mandatory Cognitive Restructuring programs, prisoners in the SHU have to fill out ‘journals.’ These  journals were derived from Cognitive Restructuring theories that seek to ‘correct wrongful thinking.’ Some law enforcement groups have taken this programming over: for instance the American Community Corrections Institute (ACCI) works with these programs.

In New Mexico, Cognitive Restructuring was a cause for ACLU-NM to take action against it being implemented in supermax prisons.

“What is disturbing, and at the root of the ACLU lawsuit, is the use of segregation in concert with this program: if you don’t give the right answer, you get more time in lockup. … It is sold as a self-imposed hypnotism for quitting habits, overcoming insomnia and bettering life. Put in a prison situation, where the wrong answer nets an inmate punishment in the form of time in solitary, cognitive restructuring becomes brainwashing.” (The Hate Factory, by G. Hirliman, p.xi).

The program is like a forced conversion to a religion, the religion of Cognitive Restructuring, with Stanton Samenow (author of Inside the Criminal Mind) as its high priest.

Prisoners in the SHU have written about this psychological belief and spoke out against making this mandatory inside the SHU’s in order to progress to “general population.” Here they write:

“And while the new policies will result in some prisoners being released to general population, these new policies do not represent a pathway to general population or even a less restrictive housing environment, as the CDCR is quick to claim for certain prisoners.

Specifically though, it is the CDCR’s attempt to brainwash us all through their behavior modification program. And that is exactly what the cognitive restructuring program is.We have had the opportunity to see and read the self-directed journals. They are insidious.”

Was this what the people inside California’s SHU’s went on three hunger strikes for?
On Jan. 31st,the Sacramento Bee posted an article about the proposed Step Down Program regulations, in which we read:

“The new program lets gang associates have their gang validation removed from their record after completing the minimum three-year rehabilitation program and going six additional years without a disciplinary charge related to gang behavior.

Those who are considered gang leaders would have to complete [sic] remain without a gang-related disciplinary violation for at least 11 years after completing the program before the gang designation could be removed by a prison committee.”


Those locked up in SHU’s in California’s prisons can ask themselves: ‘Is this what the three hunger strikes to protest the policies that lead to indefinite solitary confinement, being locked down permanently, were suffered for?’ To still do 11 (14) years under threat of being returned to the SHU, until a prisoner no longer has a picture of a dragon or an Aztec God in his or her cell? Also, what is a “gang-related disciplinary violation”? A ‘wrong’ book or drawing in your cell? That is not an act of violence people on the outside might consider a danger to security.

CDCR is spinning the whole story their way again, of how they have labeled people in a gang a “Security Threat Group,” and have created solitary confinement units to (so they try to convince us) combat gangs, while convincing the people using propaganda which can be summarized as “Look how evil ‘gang members’ are. You, STG-member/Associate can be saved, sinner!” CDCR wants us to believe in their supreme religion of Cognitive Restructuring, and the need to place people in lockdown/segregation/solitary confinement indefinitely.

With this coerced journaling, CDCR attempts to manipulate the thoughts of those inside, many of whom are 40+, have been educating themselves, and do not need to be ‘restructured.’ What kind of a new belief is this? Not all people inside are and think alike, which is another dogma CDCR wants us to believe.

Of course people need to get out of the SHU if they can. But the CDCR has been playing a game to set their agenda and it is not as good as it sounds, because basically this will cost a lot more time, money (for instance, for the journaling: each journal costs $2.70) plus they use this method to tell the people outside: “look, with the help of these cognitive restructuringprograms, they have a chance to become better again.” (see for instance for a background and examples of questions in these journaling tactics here).

As Mutope Duguma (47), who himself is incarcerated inside the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU, already wrote in 2012:

“If anyone thinks that those of us held in solitary confinement units need to go through gang management programs at the ages of 40 to 70-plus years, they are only fooling themselves.

There are NO gang members or gang bangers in the “short corridor” at Pelican Bay, only grown men who came into these institutions at very young ages, who have educated themselves, and who in many cases were never gang members from the get go. What you have back here are political prisoners, jail house lawyers, strong minded influential prisoners who understand the games correctional officers and officials play. 

Those of us who did come into these prisons with a backward mindset do not adhere to that gang nonsense anymore. It’s crazy to tell us, who’ve been in solitary confinement units from 10 to 40 years, that we’ve got to go through a “step down program,” or SDP, in order to get out, when we’ve been held illegally and subjected to physical and psychological torment throughout our stay in these torture chambers.”


It would not be surprising at all if Jeffrey Beard, who himself has an education in Psychology, was behind this and had the Change Companies, who publish these journals, step in as ‘saviors.’

If CDCR wanted these programs and really wanted people to move through step-down programs, they could have done so decades ago, but they apparently did not want this.

Three hunger strikes were necessary to get CDCR to reconsider its indefinite SHU / solitary confinement / permanent lockdown plans.

Therefore, CDCR has had to come up with this Step-Down-Program to look good, in the propaganda of a tax-payer-funded Department, and not to let down their powerful lobby of the CCPOA. CDCR should have talked with the prisoners and listened, and they should have acknowledged, that being kept in solitary confinement / administrative segregation / indefinite lockdown for a month, a year, a decade, or more, is torture and not something a judge ordered in a court of law.

It would be good if everyone was aware what games CDCR is playing with their propaganda-machine. This is an evil game. It is based on convincing the public outside and inside to believe CDCR, the torturer, is the only party to have a say in how to solve a torture program they have been conducting since decades. We should demand decency and honesty from CDCR.
 Feb. 10, 2014
By CaliforniaPrisonWatch.org

Message from Pelican Bay Reps to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez

October 18, 2013
We, the four principal representatives of the prisoners confined in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, hereby welcome Juan Mendez to California. We have followed your work and advocacy against torture throughout the world and congratulate you on your commitment and success in bringing your findings to the public’s attention.
We recently suspended our hunger strike against torture in the form of prolonged solitary confinement in California’s prisons after 60 days. Over 30,000 prisoners joined us in the largest protest ever against prison conditions in the United States and possibly the world.
We decided to suspend our hunger strike for several reasons: (1) We succeeded in making the issue of torture in California’s prisons into an issue of worldwide public and media attention. The New York Times, Washington Post,   Los Angeles Times, CNN, Al Jazeera, and the BBC are just a few of the media outlets that covered our cause, with many running editorials in our support. Thousands of people joined demonstrations, signed petitions and letters, and spoke out in our favor. (2) State Senator Loni Hancock and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano promised to hold legislative hearings to address solitary confinement, the conditions of imprisonment, and sentencing policy in California and to introduce legislation for reform. They have already held one hearing on October 9, in a room filled with our supporters, and heard from experts, former prisoners, and family members who spoke of the torture we endure and demanded change. (3) CDCR officials promised to meet with us to discuss our concerns, and we have already spent hours in talks with them.
But nothing has changed. Over 3500 prisoners remain isolated in California’s SHUs with almost no human interaction, little opportunity to exercise or even see the sun, and forbidden from contact visits or telephone calls with their families. They join thousands of others who are held in different forms of solitary confinement throughout the system.  Prisoners are revalidated for indefinite terms on the basis of unconfirmed rumors, anonymous misinformation from debriefers and informants, and possession of criminalized books, articles, and art work. The only sure way out is to debrief and expose yourself to shame, further exploitation by prison officials, condemnation and violence.
Mr. Mendez, we ask that you join in our struggle. We would like you to testify at one of the upcoming Legislative hearings. We would like you to consider becoming an expert witness in our lawsuit. As a former prisoner yourself, we would like you to do your best to bring both our conditions and our human rights movement to the attention of the international community, with intention to take resolute action against the torture we, along with many other prisoners in California and elsewhere have endured for far too long. We look forward to meeting you.
With Respect and in Solidarity,
Todd Ashker
Arturo Castellanos
Antonio Guillen
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

UN rights expert: California jails: “Solitary confinement can amount to cruel punishment, even torture”


GENEVA (23 August 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, today urged the United States Government to abolish the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement. There are approximately 80,000 prisoners in the United States of America who are subjected to solitary confinement, nearly 12,000 are in isolation in the state of California.

“Even if solitary confinement is applied for short periods of time, it often causes mental and physical suffering or humiliation, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and if the resulting pain or sufferings are severe, solitary confinement even amounts to torture,” Mr. Méndez stressed as nearly 200 inmates in Californian detention centres approach their fifth consecutive week on hunger strike against cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions.

“I urge the US Government to adopt concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances,” he said, “including an absolute ban of solitary confinement of any duration for juveniles, persons with psychosocial disabilities or other disabilities or health conditions, pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers as well as those serving a life sentence and prisoners on death row.”

The independent investigator on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment urged the US authorities to ensure that “solitary confinement is only imposed, if at all, in very exceptional circumstances, as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and with established safeguards in place.” In Mr. Méndez’s view, “its application must be subject to independent review, and inmates must undergo strict medical supervision.”

Since 8 July 2013, thousands of prisoners detained in nine separate prisons across the state of California have gone on hunger strike to peacefully protest the cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions. The inmates are demanding a change in the state’s excessive use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure, and the subjugation of prisoners to solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time by prison authorities under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In California’s maximum security prison in Pelican Bay more than 400 prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for over a decade, and the average time a prisoner spends in solitary confinement is 7.5 years. “I am extremely worried about those numbers and in particular about the approximately 4,000 prisoners in California who are held in Security Housing Units for indefinite periods or periods of many years, often decades,” Mr. Méndez said.

In many cases inmates are isolated in 8-foot-by-12 foot (2.5 x 3.5 m. Approx.) cells and lack minimum ventilation and natural light. The prisoners are forced to remain in their cells for 22 to 23 hours per day, and they are allowed only one hour of exercise alone in a cement lot where they do not necessarily have any contact with other inmates.

In the context of reported reprisals against inmates on hunger strike and a District Judge’s approval of Californian authorities’ request to engage to force-feed prisoners under certain circumstances, the UN Special Rapporteur also reminded the authorities that “it is not acceptable to use threats of forced feeding or other types of physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike.”

Mr. Méndez addressed the issue of solitary confinement in the US, including prison regimes in California, in his 2011 report* to the UN General Assembly and in numerous communications to the Government. He has also repeatedly requested an invitation to carry out a visit to the country, including State prisons in California, but so far has not received a positive answer.

“My request coincides with some prominent voices in the United States, including the first-ever congressional hearing chaired by Senator Durbin on 19 June 2012; the decision to close Tamms Maximum Security Correctional Center by the State of Illinois on 4 January 2013 and numerous editorials by prominent columnists in major papers addressing the excessive use of solitary confinement across the country,” Mr. Méndez said.

“It is about time to provide the opportunity for an in situ assessment of the conditions in US prisons and detention facilities,” the UN Special Rapporteur underscored.

Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on 1 November 2010. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity.
Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. He is currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association.
Mr. Méndez has previously served as the President of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) until 2009, and was the UN Secretary-General Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide from 2004 to 2007, as well as an advisor on crime prevention to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, between 2009 and 2010.

Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

(*) Check the 2011 report on solitary confinement: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/445/70/PDF/N1144570.pdf?OpenElement orhttp://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=103

UN Human Rights Country Page – United States of America: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Sonia Cronin (+41 22 917 91 60 / scronin@ohchr.org) or Ms. Stephanie Selg (+1 202 274 4378 / ssleg@ohchr.org) or write to sr-torture@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)
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