For 20 months, “scores” of Latino gang members at California’s Folsom State Prison were locked in their cells around the clock and deprived of regular exercise, visitors, religious services, hot meals, telephone calls and frequent showers, the Los Angeles Times reports. One top Department of Corrections official says that the extended harsh restrictions – known as a lockdown – violated state policy and the inmates’ constitutional rights.
Imposed as an emergency measure after a riot in April 2002, the lockdown continued month after month, even though inmates filed more than 100 grievances. Restrictions on exercise, visits, and hot meals were eased in December, but even now some limitations remain in effect. New Corrections Director Jeanne Woodford confirmed that an internal inquiry was underway. “Should it have gone on for two years? In my opinion, it should not have gone on for two years,” Woodford told the Times.
Prison expert Craig Haney said, “a lockdown for two years is just about unheard of.” Haney, a University of California at Santa Cruz psychology professor, added that “to confine inmates under those conditions for that long really presses against the psychological bounds of people’s survival.”
The lockdown underscores the department’s struggle to manage the expanding power of gangs within the sprawling prison system. The state estimates that more than 100,000 inmates – about two-thirds of the population – belong to gangs or splinter groups. Officials have tried to limit violence by isolating leaders at a few maximum-security housing units, gangs and splinter groups continue to flourish, battling each other in a constant war for turf and control.