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California SHU Focus of Legislative Hearing

Katie Orr/Capital Public Radio

A SHU cell in Pelican Bay State Prison.

Katie Orr/Capital Public Radio

Lawmakers on the Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees heard from corrections officials, academics and former inmates on conditions within the Security Housing Units, or SHUs, in California prisons at a hearing today.

About 4,000 inmates are held in the SHUs. Over half are there for alleged gang connections. At the hearing Senator Loni Hancock asked a corrections official if inmates have any legal assistance while the prison is investigating them for gang activity. She was told they do not have any advocates or representatives.  

“Let me just say, that seems to me to be a huge problem,” Hankcock said.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner questioned the effectiveness of isolating alleged gang members.

 “We have a lot of people in SHU but if we’re not having a reduction in gang membership, we have to evaluate whether that’s a useful purpose at all,” Skinner said.

Corrections officials said they’ve begun reevaluating inmates held in the SHU and some are beginning a “step-down” program to work their way out of isolation.

The hearings were called after inmates held a two-month-long hunger strike that, at one point, involved 30 thousand prisoners.

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