As it prepares for a courtroom showdown over the use of prolonged solitary confinement to keep order in prisons, California has adopted emergency rules to dial down such isolation, reports the Los Angeles Times. Inmates may no longer be put in isolation for refusing a cell assignment, one of several infractions for which solitary confinement punishment has been reduced or dropped. Those being disciplined with segregation can cut that punishment in half with good behavior. “This is part of an ongoing evolution in how we manage inmates in segregation,” said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the corrections department. “There will be more changes.”
The new rules went into effect last month. Public hearings are scheduled for August. They come atop other changes that have cut the count of prisoners held in near-constant lockdown from more than 9,800 in early 2014 to just under 8,700 last month. The revisions were made amid an escalating debate over solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, of which California has the largest share. Advocates for inmates are preparing to release research by a prominent corrections psychiatrist describing a malady he calls “SHU Post-Release Syndrome,” a reference to the Security Housing Unit, California’s name for long-term solitary confinement. The study documents some psychiatric effects cited last month by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in a California death penalty case. He essentially invited a constitutional challenge to long-term isolation and the “terrible price” it extracts.