SAN FRANCISCO — Opponents of solitary confinement rallied at the federal courthouse here Feb. 23 to support legal moves demanding California prison authorities comply with a landmark court settlement won by prisoners in 2015 that limits use of the brutal practice.
Leaders of three hunger strikes in California prisons, including a strike in 2013 that involved 30,000 prisoners at the high point, were plaintiffs in Ashker vs. Governor of California, the lawsuit that won an end to indeterminate-length sentences to solitary confinement and led to the release of nearly 1,500 prisoners held in the notorious Security Housing Units.
The fight continues today because in hundreds of these transfers prison officials shuffled inmates into extremely restrictive “Level 4” prisons in conditions that mirror those in the SHUs.
“Out of cell time is regularly cancelled or restricted,” Luis Esquivel, one of the prisoners released from the SHU, explained in a statement read at the rally. “Yard time is often available only 1 or 2 times per week. Showers and telephone calls, which are supposed to be available every other day, are infrequent and we must choose one or the other.”
Jules Lobel, the lead attorney from the Center for Constitutional Rights, who argued the motion in court, told the rally that prison authorities cannot satisfy the agreement by just moving prisoners to units they call “general population.” They must end the use of ongoing solitary confinement that the settlement said would be stopped.
A letter to the rally from four leaders of the hunger strikes — Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Arturo Castellanos, Todd Ashker and George Franco — marked the second anniversary of the Ashker settlement. They described some of the abuses that continue — the lack of out-of-cell time and vocational programs in Level 4 prisons, new regulations that give prison authorities discretion to put people back in the SHU, and the denial of parole to prisoners simply because they had previously been housed in the SHU.
“We must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for the future generations of prisoners,” they wrote, “so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to.”