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Landmark California settlement limits solitary confinement statewide

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In the struggle to bring justice to the criminal punishment system in the United States, the fight to end solitary confinement looms large—and has just won an enormous victory in California. Thanks to a class action lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and 3,000 people incarcerated in California, the state will no longer segregate suspected “gang members” in solitary confinement as a preventative measure. Now, incarcerated people will only go to solitary if they commit acts of violence while locked up.

AP reports:

The lawsuit was initially filed in 2009 by two killers serving time in the security housing unit at Pelican Bay. By 2012, Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell were among 78 prisoners confined in Pelican Bay’s isolation unit for more than 20 years, though Troxell has since been moved to another prison.

More than 500 had been in the unit for more than 10 years, though recent policy changes reduced that to 62 inmates isolated for a decade or longer as of late July.

The suit contended that isolating inmates in 80-square-foot cells for all but about 90 minutes each day amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

About half the nearly 3,000 inmates held in such units are in solitary confinement. Inmates have no physical contact with visitors and are allowed only limited reading materials and communications with the outside world.

The settlement will limit how long inmates can spend in isolation, while creating restrictive custody units for inmates who refuse to participate in rehabilitation programs or keep breaking prison rules.

Thanks to the now obsolete rule, some of the prisoners who will benefit from the rule change haven’t touched their family members in decades. Watch the video above to hear from the brave men who fought from the depths of hell for justice, not only for themselves but for thousands of other California prisoners.

Solitary confinement is cruel and inhumane, and constitutes torture. It has no place in our society. Congratulations to these brave men, their families, and the lawyers at CCR for fighting and winning this immensely important battle. The struggle continues.

© 2024 ACLU of Massachusetts.