Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those  
            who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."       
- Franklin D. Roosevelt                            
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California Prisoners in Solitary Confinement


NY advocates, legislators push for further restrictions on prison solitary confinement

Advocates and some New York legislators on Wednesday called for restricting solitary confinement for state inmates, citing a United Nations expert's conclusion that more than 15 days' isolation damages people mentally. Read More

51-Jurisdiction Survey of Solitary Confinement Rules in Juvenile Justice Systems

This "survey provides an overview of policies governing the solitary confinement of juveniles in 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey allows the reader to understand each state’s approach to imposing this punishment or employing alternatives. Read More

Commentary: Solitary confinement reform is necessary
State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, has proposed legislation to reform the use of solitary confinement as employed in Texas state prisons. As religious leaders, we urge the Texas Legislature to pass this legislation, which would exclude people with serious mental illness from solitary, and create step-down programs to rehabilitate people in solitary before they return to Texas communities. Read More

Millions Spent Lobbying By Private Prison Corporations To Keep A Quota Of Arrested Immigrants, Report Says
Private prison corporations spent $11 million over six years to lobby Congress to keep immigrants in detention centers, a new report released Wednesday found. The Grassroots Leadership report, Payoff: How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with an Immigrant Detention Quota, found that lobbying efforts of the two largest private prison corporations have made them the main beneficiaries of aggressive immigration detention policies. Read More

Audit of Solitary Confinement in Federal Prisons: An Inside Job Reaches Foregone Conclusions
At 242 pages in length, the Federal Bureau of Prisons: Special Housing Unit Review and Assessmentprovides a wealth of detail (though relatively little quantitative data), and a number of obvious, highly circumscribed findings. It notes inadequacies in mental health care and “reentry preparedness” for people in isolated confinement, and criticizes the BOP for some inefficiencies and inconsistencies in its policies and practices. Read More

Solitary Confinement 'An Untenable Situation,' Says Group
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies have announced a petition to the Ontario Superior Court that will challenge the use of solitary confinement in jails, calling it an inhuman practice.“The concerns around the overuse and the unjustifiable overuse of solitary confinement, the deplorable conditions of solitary confinement, have all resulted in an untenable situation in Canada. We must see a change.” Read More

In California Prisons, Hundreds Have Been Removed from Solitary Confinement
According to data obtained from CDCR, 725 SHU case reviews have been conducted, with about 69%  those cases leading to release to the final step in the Step Down Program and/or a General Population setting. A further 63% of ASU case reviews have led to a return to the general population.
In other words, in most cases, it appears that under slightly stricter standards, CDCR could not justify keeping individuals in highly restrictive, isolating conditions. Read More

California's cash flow to private prisons grows

As of 2014, there were 8,763 California inmates serving their sentences out-of-state in private prisons in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. Seven more private prisons operate within California, housing an additional 4,170 inmates, bringing the total amount of inmates who serve their time in a private, for-profit prison in California to one in ten.

In 2013, Governor Brown signed a three-year deal with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), of Nashville, Tennessee, to house inmates for $28.5 million per year. The same year, Brown signed two more contracts with a different company, the GEO Group, who subsequently signed a third contract in April, 2014. This brings GEO’s contract total to $150 million to house 1,400 inmates in low-security facilities across the state. GEO group has recently been the target of federal lawsuits and investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice over its treatment of prisoners in the state of Mississippi. Read More

Policy Brief calls for overhaul of LA County juvenile justice system
A policy brief from the Children’s Defense Fund-California, is calling for an overhaul of Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system.
The report, “Rising Up, Speaking Out: Youth Transforming Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Justice System,” uses the experiences of five young people who were incarcerated to offer recommendations for improving the conditions inside LA’s juvenile detention facilities.
One punitive practice the brief focuses on is LA County’s use of solitary confinement. Read More

Solitary confinement: Turning men into monsters (Jan. 2015)
Overwhelming evidence exists to suggest that since its inception, solitary confinement has done nothing but gradually destroy the bodies and minds of those confined. While it is easy to congratulate the ACLU and Arizona DOC for cooperating on this matter, we must not forget that solitary confinement is still being actively used all across the nation, and poses significant health risks. It is pivotal that we do not treat the issue of solitary confinement in the same manner that inmates have been abused for decades in Arizona and the entire U.S. placing the issue out of sight and out of mind, locking the door and throwing away the proverbial key.. Read More

Senator Mark Leno Proposes Limits on Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Facilities (Jan. 2015)
California State Senator Mark Leno introduced a bill that “would establish specific, limited circumstances in which state and county juvenile correctional facilities would be permitted to place someone in solitary confinement.” SB 124 will be read in the state’s policy committees this spring. Read More

Civil and Human Rights Groups to Eric Holder: No New Federal Supermax Prison at Thomson. (Jan. 2015)
On Friday, January 16, a group of advocates representing "a broad coalition of civil rights advocates, faith community leaders, human rights organizations, mental health practitioners, academics, lawyers, and former prisoners" sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversees the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The letter expresses concern over "the Bureau’s imminent plans to increase its use of solitary and other forms of isolated confinement with the opening of the new Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois." Read Full Letter

Solitary Confinement to end in Rikers Island. (Jan. 2015)

New York City will no longer use solitary confinement for all prisoners under the age of 21 in its prisons, announced Mayor de Blasio today. New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, “With these reforms, New York City has taken an important stand for basic human rights and reaffirmed its commitment to the safety of prisons, prison staff and our communities. An institution as profoundly broken as Rikers Island will require wholesale reform to transform into a humane environment that emphasizes treatment and rehabilitation over punishment and isolation, and these rules are a major step forward.” The decision was approved unanimously, 7-0, by the city’s Board of Correction, and will take effect in January 2016. Read More


"It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.  A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones."
Nelson Mandela

Approximately 80,000 inmates are held in some form of solitary confinement (SHU, ASU, Ad-Seg, Control Unit) across 44 States. 11,000 of these inmates are held in California State prisons, the vast majority of them are people of color.

On May 23, 2011, the United States Supreme Court rendered a decision indicating that the California Prison System was subjecting inmates to Cruel and Unusual Punishment by presiding over "a prison system so overcrowded that it cannot provide anything close to adequate mental or medical health care to its 147,000 inmates," in prisons designed to house just under 80,000 inmates.

On March 20, 2012, approximately 400 California prisoners in segregation petitioned the United Nations (UN) to conduct an onsite investigation of the conditions of their imprisonment and issue a decision on whether these conditions violate international law, including the UN Convention Against Torture. The petitions have been submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.


Download an informational brochure about California's widespread use of solitary segregation and its devastating effect on the spiritual, mental health, and physical well-being of prisoners.

Hunger Strike

In July 2011 thousands of California prisoners in solitary segregation started a non-violent hunger strike to protest the "torture" they were experiencing as a result of the conditions of their confinement.

See Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity blog for more updates and events

United Nations Petition

Petition on behalf of California prisoners in isolated segregation                          

In March 2011 over 300 prisoners being held in solitary confinement in California prisons joined to present a petition to the United Nations regarding the brutal and inhumane conditions under which they are placed indefinitely (many for decades).

In the Petitions, that can be downloaded through the links above, the identity of some prisoners is omitted at their request. The United Nations Petitions also included the names of over 300 prisoners whose names are also redacted from the public petition versions.

Media regarding the prisoners' United Nations Petition

Information on the Effects Health

Fact Sheet: Psychological Effects of Solitary Confinements. Solitary Confinement. 2011

Andersen, H.S., Sestoft, D.D., Lillebaek, T.T., Gabrielson, G.G., Hemmingsen, R.R., & Kramp, P.P. (2000), "A Longitudinal Study of Prisoners on Remand: Psychiatric Prevalence, Incidence, and Psychopathology in Solitary vs. Non-solitary confinement." Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 102(1)

Fellner, Jamie. "A Corrections Quandry: Mental Illness and Prison Reform." Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Libertiies. 2006.

Metzner, Jeffrey and Fellner, Jamie. "Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: A Challenge for Medical Ethics." The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 38, no. 1 (2010).

Michel Foucault. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 1995.

Haney, Craig. "Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and "Supermax" Confinement." Crime and Delinquency 49, no. 1 (2003).

Bulman, Philip, Garcia, Marie and Hernon, Jolene. "Study raises questions about psychological effects of solitary confinement." National Institute of Justice no. 269 (2012).

Voices from the SHU

"I've been sentenced to solitary confinement with no disciplinary infraction indeterminately.  I'm being deprived human contact with my wife and daughter, deprived of my right to an appliance (T.V./Radio), and all the oppression that comes with being in Calipatria State Prison's ASU.  Rather than being rehabilitated we are being suppressed and being forced to mental anguish."

Robbie Riva, CDC# T-49359 (Calipatria State Prison ASU)

"I have been housed in isolation for 23 years.  Almost daily now I wake up to a feeling of dread.  Over the past 5 years I have become convinced that death has to be better than this.  This is the kind of hate that threatens to destroy us all.  That makes a mockery of democracy.  Isolation is horrible and inhumane.  It crushes your humanity and faith."
                                        Michael Reed Dorrough, CDC# D-83611 (Corcoran State Prison)

"I have been in SHU isolation for 35 years.  I would not treat my worst enemy in such a way as I have been placed in isolation this long.  To torture another human being with these horrific conditions should be contrary to what consists of a healthy society."

                                            Phil Fortman, CDC# B-03557 (Pelican Bay State Prison SHU)

Other Organizations and Coalitions

Solitary confinement

San Francisco Bay View

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

California Prisons Focus

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Center for Constitutional Rights

Solitary Watch

Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity

Penal Reform International

Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants

Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Jails Action Coalition

  • September 24, 2014 CDCR Proposes to "Strip-Search" Some Prison Visitors
    CDCR has issued a proposed "emergency" regulation to begin "strip-searching" prison visitors based on reactions of canines or ion scanners. The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law has submitted comments strongly opposing the proposed regulation on policy and constitutional grounds. Select this link to view or download our letter to CDCR. We believe the Sept 23 deadline to submit comments is illegal. There is no justifiable "emergency" to avoid the normal 30-day comment period. We therefore urge individuals and organizations to review our comments and send similar letters to CDCR regarding the proposed "strip-search" regulations. Our letter provides the names and email address to whom comments should be addressed.
  • August 29, 2014 - California Public Records Act Case - CDCR files its response to our complaint.  (download here)
  • August 12, 2014 -The four original hunger strikers at Pelican Bay send the following letter addressed to all members of the CA Senate and Assembly regarding Sen. Loni Hancock's SB 892 re: solitary confinement. This letter from the four original hunger strikers includes rational and cogent arguments regarding the substantial deficiency in Sen. Hancock's bill in its current form (read and download their letter here) .
  • July 8, 2014 - The California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), and other groups will conduct a commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the 2013 hunger strike initiated by prisoners in solitary confinement. The groups will announce the filing of a lawsuit charging Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and CDCR of illegally refusing to publicly disclose information, data and studies regarding its solitary confinement rules, policies, and practices (download press release). The lawsuit will be brought under the Public Records Act in order to achieve greater transparency regarding the hunger strike and will be filed on July 8, 2014 in the Superior Court of Sacramento (download complaint). The 2013 hunger strike was joined by thousands of prisoners in and outside California and resulted in retaliatory actions being taken against those who participated in the hunger strike (media coverage).
  • May 19, 2014 -  The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional law, California Families Against Solitary Confinement and numerous other groups and individuals involved with prison reform issues have sent a letter to the California Assembly Appropriations Committee members supporting AB 1652 (Ammiano). If enacted AB 1652 would bring to an end California's policy of keeping about 2,500 prisoners in solitary confinement for 6-25 years for alleged gang membership with no accompanying wrong doing. Select here to view/download copy of the AB 1652 letter. Select here if you wish to add your organization or name and title to the SB 892 letter. Prison reform groups have also sent a letter to the California Senate Appropriations Committee members opposing SB 892 (Hancock) in its present form. If enacted SB 892 would insert into state law the policy of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement for many years for alleged gang membership with no accompanying wrong doing. Select here to view/download copy of the SB 892 letter. Select here if you wish to add your organization or name and title to the SB 892 letter.  Family members, advocates and organizations involved in solitary confinement issues should be in touch with Appropriations Committee members, their staff and Committee staff Tuesday-Thursday this week. A list of the key members may be view/downloaded by clicking here.
  • April 25, 2014 - The Center, together with prominent statewide prison reform advocates, community organizations, faith-based and labor leaders, comment on Sen. Hancock's S.B. 892. Read our letter here. Please contact us to sign on to our letter to CA legislators. Read our proposed amendments to S.B. 892 here. Read a recommended bill harmonizing Assemblyman Ammiano's A.B. 1652 and the positive provisions of S.B. 892 here
  • CHRCL responds to CDCR regarding new STG Proposed Regulations (read more).

Celebrities join prison
                  hunger strikers
  • Read poems by prisoners in solitary confinement speaking of their experience.


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