California has more inmate suicides than any other state, a total that is rising even as its prison population falls. Almost half those deaths were in segregation cells, says the Los Angeles Times. A new Amnesty International report says conditions in the state’s security housing “breach international standards on humane treatment.” “It would crush you,” said Tessa Murphy, an Amnesty International observer who was given unusual access to the isolation units at Pelican Bay and two other prisons. California officials contested Amnesty’s findings, insisting the security units “follow the national standard. They are clean. They are secure,” said Terri McDonald of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. She cited the constant monitoring of those units under federal lawsuits over poor medical and mental healthcare in the state system. “We have not been inhumane,” she said.
There are more than 3,100 inmates living in California’s maximum security segregation units, and thousands more in similar administrative segregation units. The windowless, 7- by 12-foot cells at Pelican Bay exceed international space standards for a single inmate. The only way in or out is through a perforated steel door that looks out onto a concrete wall. The state officials says the average stay in solitary confinement is 6.8 years; it will begin a trial program next month that would allow compliant inmates out of isolation after four years. Amnesty International reported that at least 500 prisoners have spent more than 10 years in isolation.