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September 27, 2012

New Amnesty International report assails California's use of solitary confinement

As reported in this Los Angeles Times piece, which is headlined "Report decries suicides, isolation cells in California prisons," a new report released today by Amnesty International details problems with California's use of segregated isolation. Here is part of the story behind the report:

California has more inmate suicides than any other state, a total that is rising even as its prison population falls. Almost half those deaths occurred in the system's segregation cells.

According to an Amnesty International report to be released Thursday, conditions within the state's security housing "breach international standards on humane treatment."

"It would crush you," said Tessa Murphy, an Amnesty International observer who was given unusual access to the isolation units at Pelican Bay and two other California prisons last November.

But California officials rebutted Amnesty's findings, insisting the state's security units "follow the national standard. They are clean. They are secure," said Terri McDonald, who is in charge of prison operations for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. She cited the constant monitoring of those units — the result of federal lawsuits over poor medical and mental healthcare in the state system. "We have not been inhumane," McDonald said.

There currently are more than 3,100 inmates living in California's maximum security segregation units, and thousands more in similar administrative segregation units. The windowless, 7- by 12-foot cells at Pelican Bay exceed international space standards for a single inmate. The only way in or out is through a perforated steel door that looks out onto a concrete wall.

Except for an unknown number of prisoners who have cellmates, Amnesty International reported that there was no contact with other inmates and little interaction with the guards — who monitor them via closed circuit cameras, open doors with remote switches and push food through slots.

Segregated prisoners do not have access to rehabilitation programs, the report said. They are permitted to exercise 90 minutes a day, inside a concrete enclosure through which a slice of sky is visible 20 feet overhead.  Group therapy consists of inmates in individual holding cages lined up before a therapist; physicians examine ill inmates through the closed cell door.

According to state officials, the average stay in solitary confinement is 6.8 years — although California is set to begin a trial program next month that would allow compliant inmates out of isolation after four years. But Amnesty International reported that at least 500 prisoners have spent more than 10 years in isolation. Seventy-eight inmates have been segregated for more than 20 years. "There is no question … the conditions are among the worst in the nation," Murphy said.

The full AI report is titled "USA: The edge of endurance: Prison conditions in California's security housing units," and it is available via this link.

September 27, 2012 at 09:18 AM | Permalink


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Remember, it's only inhumane if we're talking about humans. Since we regard our prisoners as little more than animals, it is only fitting we treat them as such.

Just kidding. I'm willing to bet animals in shelters live better.

Posted by: Guy | Sep 27, 2012 2:26:37 PM

Supporters of Proposition 34 claim we don't need the death penalty to prevent further crimes by convicted murderers because life imprisonment incapacitates them. But there are, in fact, murders committed by life prisoners, and there will be more if we can't have the supermax.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 27, 2012 7:59:39 PM

Invite the pro-criminal lawyers of Amnesty International to spend a shift as prison guards. Show us all how to properly manage ultra-aggressive, heartless predators flinging human body fluids at anyone who wants to show them any kindness.

Prison suicide should be immunized from tort litigation, because the intentional act of the prisoner has broken any conceivable chain of causation. Only in the upside down Twilight Zone world of the lawyer dumbass can a defendant be held liable for the intentional acts of another, not in his employ. Prisons have markedly reduced suicide but only by tighter supervision. So now the lawyer calling that supervision inhumane.

Not only should statute immunize prisons and jails from liability for suicide, but suicide should be enabled, rewarded, and encouraged as a back door form of death penalty for murderers and repeat violent offenders. Just as the Europeans do. Claudio is such a hypocrite because of that practice. Europeans take on the airs of supercilious piety, but eradicate their problem prisoners via suicide, a stealthy, but rather busy form of death penalty.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 28, 2012 12:50:57 AM

Suppie, you are and idiot. A dangerous idiot.

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Sep 28, 2012 8:02:45 AM

Claudio: What kind of an argument is that? We are not in elementary school, anymore, and this is not recess. You have a PhD. You can do better.

If you have no other argument, it proves the point that the facts abandoned the Left 100 years ago. Only personal attack remains to impose the big government failed ideology on the public.

The deceased are government make work job killers. The life sentence is a guarantee of cushy, do nothing employment, babysitting child rapists and sadistic serial killers for decades, for left wing union members and other parasites of tax funds. I bet even verbal criticism is not allowed calling it verbal abuse, in case it decreases their acting up, and the necessity for more staffing.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 28, 2012 8:42:17 AM

You are a sick man:
“pro-criminal lawyers of Amnesty International”
“Prison suicide should be immunized from tort litigation, because the intentional act of the prisoner has broken any conceivable chain of causation.”
“Not only should statute immunize prisons and jails from liability for suicide, but suicide should be enabled, rewarded, and encouraged as a back door form of death penalty for murderers and repeat violent offenders”
You should be deported in Communist China. You will very happy over there. Thousands executions, torture, trials without lawyers. Everything a deranged fascist loves.

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Sep 29, 2012 5:07:42 AM

Claudio: Are you upset about something? This is just policy discussion.

"... because the intentional act of the prisoner has broken any conceivable chain of causation." In English based common law, this lack of liability for the suicide of another, which is an intentional act by the other, was true, until pro-plaintiff biased judges overturned 1000 years of precedent and practice, just recently.

You are calling me both a Commie to be deported to China, and a deranged Fascist. Can one be both? You should make up your mind.

I prefer the label "utilitarian." I do realize its philosophical shortcomings, in case anyone wants to start that debate again. I prefer a safe society, totally free of real crime, not the gotcha violations of false regulations made up by rent seeking lawyers. I take the side of the crime victim. I bet you cannot pronounce the V word either, without choking, gagging, and having to be revived.

Also, please do not assume I am male, since Supremacy is a very feminine first name.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 29, 2012 7:34:52 PM

ah oh!

"Also, please do not assume I am male, since Supremacy is a very feminine first name."

does this mean your SECRET is out!

Supremacy Claus is in reality.....ERIKA!!!!!!

SORRY SC i had to do it! i don't really belive it. your spelling, punsuation and sentence construction are much better than erika's and mine for that matter ! LOL

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 30, 2012 12:42:13 AM

Not Erika. Erika is the one who so badly needs a spanking.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 30, 2012 4:47:36 AM

LOL what erika realy needs is a SHRINK for her anger issues! Followed by more treatment for her male envy...

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 30, 2012 11:52:40 AM

In the twenty years I was in Amnesty International I worked about soviet dissident and Argentinians desaparecidos. I’d never heard them complain about the “pro-criminal lawyers of Amnesty International”. Often we asked what difference you can find between fascism and communism
I insist you must be deported in communist China were there are no lawyers and lots of administrative killings.

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Sep 30, 2012 3:55:42 PM

By comparing California to the Soviet Union and to a military dictatorship, you lose credibility. By comparing heartless serial killers to political dissidents, you lose credibility. By comparing mad dog inmates who cannot be controlled from hurting everyone around them, and need segregation, to sensitive, progressive, poetic dissidents, you lose credibility.

I would also like to hear any achievement by Amnesty International, at improving conditions for dissidents or saving a political dissident.

As to China, it had 31,000 murders. If it had the US rate, that number would be 72,000. Say, they executed 10,000 people. They still saved 40,000 innocent victims. Crime has been steadily increasing in China, and their number of lawyers has risen as well. The number of lawyers has gone from under 1000 to over 100,000, and crime has risen steadily along with that number, at around 10% a year. Every law school graduation results in the deaths of countless innocent victims over the life of the lawyer. Lawyers are highly toxic substances. Their supply should be tightly regulated to protect the public health and safety.

We have 1.3 million lawyers in the US, and our people are paying a very high price in all forms of social pathology, including the harsh outcome of murder victimization.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 30, 2012 8:19:01 PM

deport him!!!!!
deport him !!!!!

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Oct 1, 2012 3:49:24 AM

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