Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fight against Solitary Confinement in California Prisons Goes to UN

March 20, 2012

Oakland -- This morning, lawyers working with
prisoner advocates and community organizations
have filed a petition to the United Nations Group
on Arbitrary Detention, the United Nations Human
Rights Council, and United Nations General
Assembly on behalf of prisoners throughout
California's Security Housing Units (SHU) and
Administrative Segregation Units (ASU). The
petition calls for UN action against California's
prison administration and deplores the conditions
of thousands of California prisoners, "being
detained in isolated segregated units for
indefinite periods or determinate periods of many
years solely because they have been identified as
members of gangs or found to have associated with a gang."

The petition, filed by Peter Schey and Carlos R.
Holguin of the Center for Human Rights and
Constitutional Law, Marilyn McMahon of California
Prison Focus and Carol Strickman of Legal
Services for Prisoners with Children goes on to state:

As a result of the policies and practices that
leave California with the largest population of
prisoners in isolated segregation anywhere in the
world, these prisoners suffer extreme mental and
physical harm, including mental breakdowns,
extreme depression, suicidal ideation, and breaks
with reality, such that their treatment may be
considered torture or degrading treatment illegal
under well-established international norms and
obligations of the United States and the State of
California under, inter alia, the United Nations
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel,
Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
("CAT") and the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights ("ICCPR").

Conditions inside California's SHUs and ASUs,
were at the center of two massive waves of hunger
strikes last summer and fall that saw the
participation of thousands of prisoners in at
least a third of California's 33 prisons. A key
demand of the strikes were the abolition of the
California prison system's draconian gang
validation and debriefing processes, behind which
a vast majority of prisoners in SHUs and ASUs
have been held in solitary confinement.

Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Todd Ashker states,
“I’ve been in the SHU for over 25 years; 21 ½
years in Pelican Bay State Prison SHU, wherein
each minute has been torturous to my mind and
body! I'm permanently disabled and suffer chronic
pain to the point of sleep deprivation and harm
to all daily activities. I've been eligible for a
parole date since 2004. I've had no human contact
with loved ones in over 25 years. I'm told if I
wanted adequate medical care, a chance at parole,
a hug by family then I must become a known
informant against others for the State
otherwise, I will be tortured here until insanity
or death!"

His testimony is joined by nearly two dozen
prisoners party to the petition. S. Heshima
Denham, held in Corcoran State's SHU says in the
petition, "I have been in the SHU for the past 11
years and counting solely based on my political
ideology" Only 40 days in isolation I began
having auditory and visual hallucinations
requiring medication and a greater level of
psychological care. This torture without end has
damaged my joints and legs to the degree that my
normal function is diminished, and I no longer
view any great distinction between death and my
current existence, struggle is my only hope, and
I genuinely don't care if I die in the process."

Kendra Castaneda with the Center for Human Rights
and Constitutional Law says, "With this petition
we are asking United Nations to intervene in CA
prisons, to come investigate the torture of these
inmates who are human beings held in these
isolation units who had resulted to starving
themselves last year to get their voices heard."
The U.N. Committee against Torture established
under the Convention against Torture has
recommended that the practice of placing
prisoners in isolation be abolished
altogether. Based on the strike actions by
prisoners, the California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation has said it will
be making substantial changes to its gang validation
and debriefing criteria.

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