Amnesty International Urges Thorough, Impartial Investigation in Prisoner’s Death in California

Press Release
July 30, 2013

Amnesty International Urges Thorough, Impartial Investigation in Prisoner’s Death in California

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia

(NEW YORK) – Amnesty International USA issued the following comments today from Thenjiwe McHarris, senior campaigner in the U.S. program, in response to the death of a prisoner at the Corcoran State Prison in California:

“The state of California must immediately order a thorough, impartial investigation into the death of prisoner Billy Sell and make the results public” said McHarris. “This case underscores our concerns at treatment of and conditions for prisoners in CA SHUs, whether or not they are participating in the hunger strike. It is imperative that the public know the facts surrounding this death - whether they reveal that Sell was refusing food as part of the hunger strike, and requested medical attention in the days before he died, as prisoners advocates have alleged, or was a suicide, as prison authorities attest and the country coroner ruled. The state is obligated to find the truth in this case and make the facts public. There must be no uncertainty or dispute over how Billy Sell died.”

“Conditions for prisoners in solitary confinement in California are an affront to human rights and must end. No human being should be held under the deplorable conditions we have witnessed in California prisons for prolonged periods, even decades - this amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading conditions.”

The hunger strike by prisoners in solitary confinement in California entered its 23rd day on Tuesday, with the state reporting about 600 prisoners refusing food. The strike had involved 30,000 prisoners at the start. Amnesty International visited California’s prison isolation units in November 2011 and issued a highly critical report, “The Edge of Endurance“ the following year.

The severe negative psychological consequences of isolation are such that suicides occur more frequently in isolation units than in the general prison population. In California, over a five-year period from 2006 to 2010, the average number of prison suicides was 34 a year, with 42 percent occurring in administrative segregation or isolation units.

On July 5, in advance of the hunger strike, Amnesty International issued a full statement calling on California authorities to respond to the planned strike by enacting reforms. Read the statement.

Read Amnesty International’s 2012 report, “The Edge of Endurance: Prison Conditions in California’s Security Housing Units“