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Special Report: California’s Barbaric Solitary Confinement Prisons



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In this special report, we feature 4 views on the use of long-term solitary confinement in the California prison system.  Led by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a group of legal advocates has sued to change this harsh practice and limit the length of time that prisoners can be placed in isolation.This in-depth report features:

Jules Lobel, law professor at University of Pittsburgh and President of Center for Constitutional Rights.  Prof. Lobel gives us an overview of solitary confinement in US prisons, and some of the issues in California raised in the class action suit, Ruiz v. Brown.  CCR website.

Dr. Terry Kupers is a psychiatrist who details the impact of long term isolation on inmates, leading to depression, psychosis and high rates of suicide.  He talks about the Catch-22: solitary confinement can lead to or exacerbate mental illness, but prisoners don’t seek or get mental health care, largely because it can be used against them in parole hearings.

Carol Strickman is a staff attorney at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and she talks about the segregation in prisons, with 85% of Pelican Bay SHU (security housing unit) prisoners being Latino.  She says that arbitrary “associations” with gang members are used to place inmates in solitary, and that prison officials make the decision about who goes to the SHU and how long they stay. And she talks about the legal precedents related to “cruel and unusual” punishment.  Visit their website.

Jerry Elster is an ex-convict who spent time in solitary, and now works at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and is a member of All of Us or None. He describes the low quality of life in isolation, and how anger and despair increase over time.  He offers an authentic voice on the impact of super-max prisons, and challenges us to learn more about what goes on in our prisons.