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State Agrees To Solitary Confinement Reforms

Katie Orr / Capital Public Radio

A view inside a Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Katie Orr / Capital Public Radio

The State of California will change the way it uses solitary confinement in its prisons. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation today announced a settlement with a group of inmates being housed in Security Housing Units, or SHU’s. The inmates objected to using the segregated units to control prison gang activity.

CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard says inmates will now only be sent to SHU if they commit certain offenses, like assault. They will not be sent there just for being a validated gang member. Beard says that method is outdated.

"The former practice of confining inmates, sometimes for many years, based solely on being a validated member or associate of a prison gang existed for over 30 years," he says.

Carol Strickman was a lead attorney for the inmates. She said some had spent 20 years or more in solitary confinement.

"There’s depression, inability to sleep, anxiety, paranoia, hopelessness, social withdrawal," she says. "Our psychological experts wrote about people basically feel that they’re dead. They endured what they called a social death."

There are currently about 3,000 inmates in Security Housing Units statewide. About half of them are in solitary confinement. Beard says he expects that number to go down.

The settlement also requires inmates not be placed in the units indefinitely.