California urged to improve prison isolation unit conditions

[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Thursday urged [press release] California authorities to end "shocking conditions" in high-security prison isolation units. In a report [text, PDF] entitled "The Edge of Endurance: Conditions in California's Security Housing Units," AI examined the prison conditions of over 3,000 individuals who have been confined in isolation in California prisons. The prisoners, who spend over 22 hours each day in their cells without work, activities or rehabilitation, endure "inhuman suffering," AI asserted. US Researcher for AI Angela Wright visited several prisons in the state and deplored the conditions:

The conditions and length of imprisonment in California's isolation units are simply shocking. To deprive prisoners in a segregated environment of natural light, adequate exercise or meaningful human contact is unnecessarily punitive and unjustifiable in all circumstances. Access to natural light and exercise are basic needs, essential for physical and mental health.
AI criticized California in particular for holding prisoners in isolation for longer periods than in any other US state prison system. AI recommended that California adopt a behavior evaluation based process by which prisoners in isolation could earn their way into the general prison population. The advocacy group also proposed changes to the high security isolation unit conditions, including better exercise and more human contact.

US prisons have been criticized for conditions leading to human rights abuses and overcrowding. In April AI contended that solitary confinement conditions in Arizona's maximum security prisons violate international human rights law [JURIST report]. In January Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released its annual World Report and criticized US illegal detention programs [JURIST report], pointing to extreme prisoner rights abuses and a high level of incarceration of illegal immigrants and racial minorities. A week earlier the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) [official website] criticized the US human rights record, including the indefinite detention [JURIST report] of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] detainees, in a report that called the situation in Guantanamo "the main outstanding [human rights] issue" in the US. Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder] to uphold an order requiring California to release up to 46,000 prisoners [JURIST report] to remedy the state's overcrowded prisons [JURIST news archive].

 

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.