The state of California settled a federal lawsuit yesterday by agreeing to limit its use of solitary confinement. The state will no longer hold prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely, nor will prisoners be placed in solitary solely for their connection to gangs. The practice will only be reserved for those who have committed major violations.
“This momentous victory comes after years of struggle and organizing by the people most directly impacted by the prolonged nightmare of solitary confinement – isolated prisoners and their families,” said Jasmine Heiss, senior campaigner for Amnesty International USA. “It is testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of devastating cruelty.”
In 2012, Amnesty International released a report detailing conditions in California’s isolated Security Housing Units, which found that the punishment endured by prisoners amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in violation of international law.
Last year, Amnesty International released a report on the severity of conditions that prisoners face in the federal super-maximum security facility, the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum (ADX) near Florence, Colorado. As in the California report, the ADX report explored the physical and psychological impact of confining inmates to solitary cells for 22-24 hours a day. The severe conditions in ADX have led to some prisoners practicing extreme self-harm or committing suicide.
Symptoms resulting from being held in isolation for extended periods include anxiety, depression, insomnia, hypertension, extreme paranoia, perceptual distortions and psychosis.
“The significance of this reform in California cannot be overstated, as no other U.S. state is believed to have held so many prisoners for such long periods in indefinite isolation,” said Heiss. “This should not be an isolated victory, however. Instead, California’s step forward should be a catalyst for sweeping change in prisons across the country. Now is the time to ensure that no human being is condemned to spend decades in a cage, whether they are in California, Louisiana, or Colorado.”