California lawmakers grilled state prison officials about controversial isolation units Wednesday, saying policies allowing long-term solitary confinement of inmates are “beyond the pale,” reports the Los Angeles Times. The hearing was an outgrowth of a two-month hunger strike this summer that involved thousands of inmates protesting prison conditions. There are about 4,000 inmates in isolation units at four prisons, according to state Inspector General Robert Barton.
About 40 percent of the inmates in those wards were placed there for specific infractions, such as attacking an officer or drug trafficking. The rest are considered members of prisons gangs, Barton said, and are isolated indefinitely. The average stay in solitary is four years, according to state officials, but there are currently 23 inmates who have been isolated for at least 25 years. Some in those units have cellmates, but all have limited contact with others and may be allowed outside their cells for only an hour a day.