Rights group: isolation units in California prisons cruel

Sep 28, 2012 - 0 Comments

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - The use of solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time in California's Pelican Bay State Prison constitutes cruel and degrading treatment in violation of international law, according to Amnesty International report released on Thursday.

The human rights group found that roughly 3,000 prisoners in the super maximum security Pelican Bay facility in Northern California and the Corcoran State Prison in the state's rural heartland were being held in "extreme" isolation, with no direct human contact, access to rehabilitation programs, sunlight or fresh air.

California's state prisons have been plagued by hunger strikes, occasional violence and overcrowding and remain at more than 50 percent above capacity, despite a massive shift of low-level offenders to county jails that began last year.

The effort to shift the prison population followed a U.S. Supreme Court directive to cut the inmate population after the nation's top court ruled that overcrowding in the 33-prison system was causing "needless suffering and death."

The report comes months after a lawsuit filed by rights groups against California and its prison system over long-term solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, saying it violated the rights of more than 500 prisoners who have been held in isolation at the prison between 10 and 28 years.

"After being in solitary confinement for almost seven years, that rush of loneliness still vibrates through me," one former inmate interviewed by Amnesty International, Freddie Garay, said of his seven years in Pelican Bay's Security Housing Unit, the isolation chambers for the "worst of the worst." Read More

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