The segregation unit at California State Prison in Sacramento houses convicts removed from the general population because they’ve committed crimes while incarcerated or are affiliated with notorious prison gangs that prison officials say control drugs and violence on the streets. The San Francisco Chronicle says inmates here spend nearly entire days inside 80-square-foot concrete cells. The few freedoms afforded to prisoners in the general population, such as handcuff-free time in an open yard under an open sky, are mostly stripped away. Here, they eat in their cells, their food slipped through a slot. They get no phone calls, except in emergencies. Visits with family and friends are strictly no-contact. Social interactions, even with other inmates, are limited to nonexistent
Critics call this solitary confinement. Prison officials use the term Security Housing Units. “My concern is what happens to people who are released from these conditions of deprivation of other human contact or activities,” said state Sen. Loni Hancock. “To me, that seems like something every community in California should be concerned about.” California corrections department leaders have acknowledged that their policies have isolated too many inmates for too long. “I think we all agree that it was far too easy to get in and too hard to get out,” said Martin Horshino, undersecretary of operations at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. One hundred six of the 3,600 segregated inmates had spent at least 15 years in the special unit as of July. Twenty-three inmates had served at least 25 years. Now the department is transferring hundreds of prisoners out of the segregated cells as part of a 2012 pilot program that they hope to make a permanent policy next month.