California’s practice of isolating prison inmates it suspects of gang affiliations and keeping them that way for years is being challenged in federal court by a national civil rights group, reports the Los Angeles Times. Inmate advocates say California is the only state that makes such extensive, harsh use of solitary confinement, which amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
The inmates are segregated based on thin evidence and prevented from seeking parole, the advocates say, and their isolation leads to mental and medical problems. The lawsuit was filed Thursday by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. The lawsuit focuses on about 300 inmates who have been held in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit for more than a decade. Most are alone in their windowless cells, allowed out only to shower or exercise in a small concrete yard known as the “dog run.” They’re allowed one package a year and almost no phone calls, the lawsuit says. Prison officials said they were examining their policies on how inmates are placed in the security unit, and a spokesman defended the practice as necessary to handle safety problems in a prison system rife with gangs.