With Hunger Strike Underway, Authorities Must Make Immediate Reforms to Solitary Confinement Conditions in California Prisons

Press Release
July 9, 2013

With Hunger Strike Underway, Authorities Must Make Immediate Reforms to Solitary Confinement Conditions in California Prisons

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

(NEW YORK) - Amnesty International USA issued the following comment today from Thenjiwe McHarris, USA campaigner, in response to the hunger strike by 30,000 prisoners in California:

"The conditions for prisoners in solitary confinement in California are an affront to human rights," said McHarris. "No human being should be held under the deplorable conditions we have witnessed in California prisons. And yet thousands of prisoners suffer what amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading conditions in California - some for years at a time."

"California prison authorities pledged to carry out reforms - at the very least to give prisoners a way out of indefinite isolation - but they have broken this promise. And rather than improving, conditions have actually deteriorated. If they have not listened until now, California authorities need to do so immediately and enact reforms to improve what is a dire situation for thousands of human beings."

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.

Amnesty International visited California's isolation units in November 2011 and issued a highly critical report, "The Edge of Endurance," the following year.

Over a thousand prisoners continue to be held in indefinite isolation in California, confined for 22-24 hours a day in small, often windowless cells, and deprived of meaningful human contact. Hundreds have been held in these ‘Security Housing Units’ for more than ten years.

According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, solitary confinement, even for a limited period, can cause serious psychological harm. States should isolate prisoners only in exceptional circumstances, and for as short a time as possible, and isolation should never be used against juveniles or the mentally ill.

The California State authorities’ own figures show that in 2011 more than 500 prisoners had spent more than ten years in the isolation units at Pelican Bay State Prison and 78 had been there for 20 years or more.

Read Amnesty International's 2012 report, "The Edge of Endurance: Prison Conditions in California's Security Housing Units."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.