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Rights group sues over California prison solitary confinement

The Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] filed [complaint, PDF] a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of several inmates over solitary confinement policies at a California prison Security Housing Unit (SHU). The defendants are California Governor Jerry Brown, the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the Chief for the Office of Correctional Safety and a warden at the Pelican Bay State Prison [official websites]. The complaint alleges that the SHU violates prisoners' Eighth Amendment rights and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by placing the plaintiffs, prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison, in solitary confinement for 10 to 28 years, which amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Such confinement allegedly denies basic human rights, resulting in detrimental physical and psychological effects on prisoners. The plaintiffs argue that California engages in such practices solely based on prisoners' alleged association with a prison gang. They are seeking class action status as well as injunctive relief requiring the prison to amend its current policies.

California's prison system has been criticized for overcrowding. In January the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled that California prison officials have failed to comply with its ruling in a 1994 suit requiring prisons to provide reasonable accommodations for inmates w by not providing them with wheelchairs and other mobility assistance devices. In August, California's Legislative Analyst's Office [official website] reported that California is most unlikely to reduce the state's prison population by 34,000 inmates within the Supreme Court's two-year deadline [JURIST reports]. The ruling issued in May 2011 in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] was to remedy the problem of the state's overcrowded prisons.

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