Skip navigation
PYHS - Header

Buried Alive - Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons, AFSC, 2008

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
Buried Alive
Long-Term Isolation in
California’s Youth and
Adult Prisons
By Laura Magnani
American Friends Service Committee—Oakland
May 2008

American Friends
Service Committee

Buried Alive
Long-Term Isolation in
California’s Youth and
Adult Prisons
By Laura Magnani
American Friends Service Committee—Oakland

Table of Contents
Introduction  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 	

1

History  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 	

3

Conditions  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 	

4

California  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  	

5

The Way To the SHU—Or Who Is
the “Worst of the Worst”?  .  .  .  .  .  	

6

Parole, Snitch, or Die? .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  	

8

The Mental Illness Factor .  .  .  .  .  . 	

9

Taking It To the Courts .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  	 11
Youth and Isolation  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 	 13
Human Rights Protocols .  .  .  .  .  .  .  	 16
Recommendations .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  	 17

American Friends
Service Committee

Acknowledgments
Deepest appreciation for help on this project goes first and
foremost to three people: Angèle Echele, a Metta Institute
for Nonviolence intern working with us in the summer, 2007,
Charity Denlinger, an intern this year from Pacific School of
Religion, and Toby Kramer, volunteer extraordinaire. Editorial
help came from many colleagues and committee members:
Naima Black, Bonnie Kerness, Matthew Lowen, Caroline Isaacs,
Natalie Holbrook, Eric Moon, Alan Lessik, Terry Kupers,
Jay Conner, Naneen Karraker and Roy Bateman.
The real motivation and urgency around this report comes from
the men, women, and children on the inside who have been
writing to us for years, sharing their stories, their pain and their
poetry. It is for them and with them that we have compiled this
material and that we launch this campaign to stop the use of
long-term isolation.

Cover drawing: “Captive,” by Todd Tarselli
Copyright © 2008 American Friends Service Committee.
Permission is granted to reproduce this material for
noncommercial educational use, provided such use credits
the author and AFSC.
Printed copies of this report are available from the AFSC—
Oakland Office Criminal Justice program. Single copies free
(donations welcome). Bulk orders 10 for $15.00 plus postage.
Published by:
American Friends Service Committee
Pacific Mountain Region—Oakland Office
1730 Franklin St., Suite 212
Oakland, CA 94612–3417
(510) 238-8080
Naima Black, National STOPMAX Coordinator
American Friends Service Committee
1501 Cherry St.
Philadelphia, PA 19102–1479
(215) 241-7137

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

Introduction

T

he American Friends Service Committee
(AFSC) is launching a national campaign,
called STOPMAX, in May 2008, calling for
the end of the use of solitary confinement in U.S.
prisons. It is the successor of a campaign which
Bonnie Kerness, of the New York Metropolitan
Region of the AFSC, conducted in the early
1990s, when the development of security housing
units was beginning its ascent. In California,
the premiere organization to focus on these new
“maxi maxi prisons” has been California Prison
Focus (CPF). Under the leadership of Dr. Corey
Weinstein, Luis (Bato) Talamantez, Charles
Carbone, Georgia Schreiber, Leslie DeBenedetto,
Judy Greenspan, and many others, CPF has
conducted interviews with prisoners in these units
and reported their findings. AFSC owes a great
debt to these courageous folks, along with our
brothers and sisters inside who are living for years
at a time under the extreme conditions described
herein. The other debt we owe is to the lawyers
and psychiatrists who have challenged prison
conditions in California and stuck around for
decades to help monitor compliance. That would
include the Prison Law Office, Don Specter, Steve
Fama, Sara Norman and others, as well as Jane
Kahn, of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, and Sarah Chester
from the California Appellate Project. On the
psychology end of things, Terry Kupers and Craig
Haney have both made huge contributions in
bringing horrific conditions to light. These folks
are our heroes in this work. This is not a story that
the public seems to want to hear. However, if we

continue to anesthetize ourselves to the horrors
being committed in our names, there is no hope
for positive change.
In May 2007, the AFSC Arizona office published
Buried Alive: Solitary Confinement in Arizona’s
Prisons and Jails. This report is intended to be the
California story of isolation in the state prisons
and juvenile facilities.
A cautionary note is necessary. Many of the
statistics offered are estimates based on the research
we have been able to do. Often the California
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
(CDCR) doesn’t keep statistics, especially about
topics that may reflect on it negatively. Just as
police departments
. . . the extent
have resisted
efforts to require
of the abuse and
them to collect
horror we found
racial information
astounded even
about the arrests
the most seasoned
they make, racial
information about
among us.
who is held in the
harshest conditions in our prisons is not routinely
documented. However, from the direct contact
AFSC has had with these institutions, and with the
interviews CPF has conducted for many years, we
believe the portrait depicted here to be accurate.
It is not a pretty picture. In fact, the extent of the
abuse and horror we found astounded even the
most seasoned among us. Readers are cautioned
that the material in these pages is graphic and
disturbing at a very deep level.

1

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

“Jumah al Dossari, a thirty-three-year-old Bahraini
national, is the father of a young daughter. He has
been held at Guantanamo Bay for more than five
years. In addition to being detained without charge
or trial, Dossari has been subjected to a range of
physical and psychological abuses, some of which
are detailed in Inside the Wire, an account of the
Guantanamo prison by former military intelligence
soldier Erik Saar. He has been held in solitary
confinement since the end of 2003 and, according
to the U. S. military, has tried to kill himself twelve
times while in the prison. On one occasion, he
was found by his lawyer, hanging by his neck and
bleeding from a gash to his arm.”
Death Poem
Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave,
lonely.
Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men
and the fair-minded.
And let them bear the guilty burden,
before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden, before their children
and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands
of the “protectors of peace.”
— by Jumah Al Dossari1

1	 Reprinted from Poems from Guantanamo by Marc Falkhoff,
with the permission of the University of Iowa Press.
2

What Is a Supermax?

“I’m a prisoner, not a puppet…A man, not an
animal…And although I’ve endured this hell, I
will never accept it.” (Corcoran Security Housing
Unit prisoner, 2006)
Solitary confinement is known by various names
in prison systems, depending on the facility:
supermax units, management control units,
secure housing units (SHU), closed custody units,
separation, special management units (SMU),
Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg) and the
Adjustment Center. This report will focus on the
use of long-term isolation.
Generally in correctional settings, there are
two types of segregation: disciplinary and
administrative. Disciplinary segregation, referred
to by prisoners as “the hole,” is applied as a shortterm punishment for breaking prison rules. By
contrast, administrative segregation is reserved for
those prisoners deemed to pose a serious risk to
other prisoners, and is carried out often, but not
exclusively, in independent, supermax facilities.
Although both types of segregation are thought to
have a sensory deprivation environment, it is often
the case that they constitute a sensory overload,
with yelling, clanging of doors, loud commands
shouted by staff, etc. Conditions in these units
also involve severe loss of privileges, such as access
to phones, showers, and outdoor recreation. The
difference is that administrative segregation is
now being used over extended periods of time
(six months to several years), sometimes for the
person’s entire sentence. In Laura Sullivan’s 2006
National Public Radio series, “Life in Solitary
Confinement,” she states that most prisoners held
in solitary confinement throughout the U.S. “have
been there for more than five years.” Increasingly,
people are being sent straight to such units
without ever spending time in the general prison

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

population. Many are then being released directly
back to their communities.
In addition to SHUs and SMUs, there is another
version of isolation unit, most commonly called
“Protective custody.” Protective custody is used
for people who would themselves be in danger
if placed in the general population. Sometimes
a prisoner is placed in protective custody at his
or her request. More frequently, the institution
makes that determination. Gay, transgender and
gender variant prisoners are often housed in these
units, whether or not they request it, and are
thereby denied equal access to visits, phone calls,
job opportunities, and educational offerings. In
California and elsewhere in the U.S., departments
of corrections often do not have the facilities to
provide general population level programs for
prisoners separated for their own protection, so
they throw them into some kind of segregation
unit. The people from whom they are being
protected may be placed in Ad Seg or SHU—in
the same unit where those requiring protection
are being held. This is a violation of American
Corrections Association standards, which require
protective custody with the same programs and
amenities that would be available to that prisoner
if he or she was not in protection. It should also be
said that recently, in California, some protective
custody prisoners are being sent to “Sensitive
Needs Yards” which provide greater access to yard
time, vocational and other kinds of education. It
is not clear how many have access to this broader
range of programs.
Although this report focuses primarily on security
housing units, our concern is with long-term
isolation of any kind. Therefore our statistics,
though hard to verify precisely, include estimates
of the broader use of lock-down facilities in
California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation (CDCR) prisons.

History

I

n 1972, a new type of prison unit was
established in the Marion Federal Penitentiary
in Illinois. Called the Management Control
Unit, the facility was described by one prisoner as
a “prison within the prison.” Marion was not built
as a control unit. Following an incident in which
a guard was killed, a large part of the penitentiary
was essentially converted into one. This prompted
the building of prisons for the specific purpose of
solitary confinement, beginning with the building
of the Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in
Florence, Colorado. In these places, prisoners were
held in solitary confinement for extended periods
of time, with few opportunities for exercise,
showers, or rehabilitative programming. At the
time, the Marion control unit held sixty prisoners,
and was one of a handful of such units around
the country. In 1985, there were approximately
half a dozen such units. According to a 2003
AFSC report, by 1997, forty-five states, the Federal
Bureau of Prisons, and the District of Columbia
were operating control units.2
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports a
dramatic increase in the use of isolation in U.S.
prisons between
The U.S. Bureau
1995 and 2000.
During that period, of Justice Statistics
the Commission
reports a dramatic
on Safety and
increase in the
Abuse in America’s
Prisons found that
use of isolation
“the growth rate
in U.S. prisons
of the number of
between 1995
prisoners housed
in segregation
and 2000.
far outpaced the
growth rate of the overall prison population:
2	
Kamel, Rachael, and Bonnie Kerness, The Prison Inside the
Prison: Control Units, Supermax Prisons, and Devices of Torture.
Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, 2003.
3

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

40 percent compared to 28 percent.” In 2002,
Human Rights Watch reported that over 20,000
prisoners, almost 2 percent of the U.S. prison
population, were being held in long-term solitary
confinement.3 Last year, Kevin Johnson reported
in USA Today that 70,000 people were housed in
isolation nationwide.4
The advent of these highly secure facilities
coincided with the huge prison building boom
begun in the 1980s. The number of people
incarcerated in the U.S. quintupled, nationally,
in a 25-year period, “with no increase in
resources devoted to corrections in general, or
to programming and mental health services in
particular” (Haney & Zimbardo, 1998). Indeed,
rehabilitation as a goal of imprisonment was
abandoned wholesale and security housing units
became the emblem of the intensified punishment
model. The fact that solitary confinement had
been tried periodically from the invention of
the penitentiary onward, and was abandoned on
both effectiveness grounds and decency grounds,
was completely ignored. Trop v. Dulles (1958),
is one example of litigation underscoring the
ineffectiveness and indecency of solitary.

Conditions

P

risoners in supermax units often are
confined alone in single cells; two prisoners
are often held in 6’ x 10’ cells. (If there is
anything worse, or perhaps more dangerous
than isolation, it is isolation and idleness with a
cellmate.) The cells contain only the most basic
of accommodations, generally a double bunk
bed, a toilet and sink, and possibly another
protruding slab for a desk. Prisoners describe
either an “eerie silence” in the units, stemming
3	
IBID.
4	
Johnson, Kevin, “Inmate suicides linked to solitary,” USA
Today, December 27, 2006.
4

from the cells being entirely soundproof, or the
opposite: a din of constant noise—including
yelling and screaming—twenty-four hours a day.
Most cells have no windows and it is impossible
for a prisoner to know whether it is night or day.
Prisoners often complain of the lights being left
on twenty-four hours per day, causing them to
lose track of time entirely. Of course, without
windows, confinement in the dark would be even
worse.
Contact with other human beings is extremely
limited. Prisoners eat alone in their cells and
are permitted to exercise alone in a cage or
concrete room for approximately 30 minutes a
day. Most interaction with staff occurs through
a slot in the steel door through which food and
other items are passed to the prisoner. Cell
“shakedowns” are common, and prisoners are
routinely strip searched before leaving their cells
for any reason and again upon their return. These
searches frequently include body cavity searches.
Educational or rehabilitative programming is rare.
They are not permitted to hold prison jobs. Visits,
telephone calls, and mail are severely restricted
and reading material is censored. Access to
prison “programs,” such as classes, AA groups, or
counseling is nonexistent.
A common practice in these units is “cell
extraction.” This is a procedure, used at the
discretion of the prison administration, where
prisoners are confronted with from four to six
riot-clad officers, batons drawn, descending
upon the prisoner, often hog tying him/her, and
removing him/her from the cell. This could be
precipitated by something the prisoner is alleged
to have done, or by information the prison has
gathered suggesting some kind of security breach
that inspires maximum force. We name it here as
a “condition,” because it appears to be part of the
landscape of this form of harsh punishment.

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

California

C

alifornia State Prison, Corcoran (Corcoran)
was California’s first state prison to
isolate prisoners in a supermax unit. It
began in 1988, and one year later, California
opened its first prison specifically designed as a
supermax: Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) in
Crescent City. California is one of more than
forty states with specially designed supermax
facilities.5 As outlined above, the names of these
units vary from state to state and jurisdiction
to jurisdiction. In California, the term Security
Housing Unit or “SHU,” is used. As the CDCR
states on its website, “PBSP is designed to house
California’s most serious criminal offenders
in a secure, safe, and disciplined institutional
setting.”6 Upon closer inspection, questions
arise regarding the validity of this statement.
Are SHUs actually housing the “most serious”
criminal offenders? Are the settings helpful or

harmful to the institution as a whole? This report
will attempt to answer these questions.
Aside from Pelican Bay, there are four other SHUs
in operation in the CDCR: California State Prison,
Corcoran (COR); the California Correctional
Institution (CCI), in Tehachapi; High Desert State
Prison in Susanville
The total number
(HDSP); and the
of people in
Valley State Prison
for Women (VSPW),
long-term lock
in Chowchilla.
down in California
Statistics from the
on a given day
CDCR reported in
April 2008 showed
exceeds 14,600
Pelican Bay with
1,101 SHU prisoners, Corcoran with 1,318, CCI
with 775, HDSP with 400, and VSPW with 72. In
addition, on a given day, approximately 7,354 men
and 119 women are held in Ad Seg. Another 256

Exercise cages, San Quentin
5	
Sullivan, Laura, “Life in Solitary Confinement.” National
Public Radio, July 26, 2006.
6	 “Pelican Bay State Prison—Mission Statement,”
http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Visitors/Facilities/PBSP.html.

(Artist: Kendal Au)

5

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

people are in psychiatric lock down units and an
estimated 1–2 percent of the total population is
held in protective custody.7 The count then, for
protective custody estimated at 1.5 percent would
be 2,580, based on an approximate population of
170,000 as of this writing. The total number of
people in solitary in California would be 14,529.

Assuming these calculations are correct, the
total number of people in long-term lock down
in California on a given day exceeds 14,600.

Added to those numbers are the 80–100 men in
the Adjustment Center (AC) of California’s death
row. All prisoners sent to death row start out
in lock down, usually for an assessment period
of approximately 90 days. For a prisoner to be
transferred out of the AC, prison officials must
determine that the prisoner has no recent violence,
no gang affiliation, and is not an escape risk.
People found to have any of these characteristics
can be kept in AC indefinitely. They are allowed
only nine hours a week out of their cells, no phone
access, one package a year (compared to quarterly
packages available to most prisoners) and a more
limited canteen draw. At present it appears that
the largest indeterminate AC population on death
row is alleged to have ties to the Mexican Mafia.
The second largest category that we have been able
to determine anecdotally is people seen to have
connections to the Aryan Brotherhood. The AC
also includes condemned mentally ill prisoners
who have been “acting out.” The AC cells are 7’ x 6’
compared to 4½’ x 11’ in a regular death row cell.
Of the fifteen women on death row in California,
all are single celled, but are allowed out of their
cells for “pod time”—that is, time in a common
area where they can visit with each other, use
the telephone, play games, etc. Women can be
confined to their cells and lose their pod time and
other privileges for disciplinary infractions.

7	
6

Human Rights Watch, 2001.

Table 1: California Isolation Statistics

	

Men	

Women

SHU (Security Housing Units)*	

3,570	

72

Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation)*	

7,500	

120

Protective Custody*	

2,550	

50

PSU (Psychiatric Services Units)	

313	

0

EOP (Enhanced Outpatient Program)	

356	

0

Death Row AC (Adjustment Center)*	

90	

0

14,379	

242

Total: 	
* estimate

Finally, we have recently learned that prisoners in
“reception centers” are confined in double cells
twenty-three hours a day, with only thirty minutes
out of the cell for breakfast and dinner. For the
most part, they are not allowed access to religious
services, classes or programs, or the recreation
yard, although individual institutions may provide
some yard time. These conditions last as long as it
takes to “process” incoming prisoners, anywhere
from three months to a year. The total number in
reception as of April 3, 2008 was 28,381. According
to a volunteer at San Quentin State Prison (SQSP),
the oldest state prison in California, “The despair
I have seen at the reception center at San Quentin
outweighs that felt on death row . . .For the men
locked inside all day and night, it is excruciatingly
stressful.”
None of the above calculations takes into
consideration the fact that whole institutions are
“locked down” in California for months at a time.
In these instances, prisoners are confined to their
cells and recreation, classroom instruction, and
visits are drastically curtailed.

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

“My son was able to escape the frightening
conditions of 4-A, one of two SHU units, (guards
setting up rooster fights and shooting from the tower)
by reading—although he did experience one of the
set up fights—not by choice. We all sent books, as
many as we could each month, and newspapers and
magazines which he passed along to others. But, in
this, reading and family, he was more fortunate than
most.
“Because Corcoran was off in the middle of nowhere
and the guard’s union was so powerful, murder and
mayhem on the part of a few guards prevailed in
4-A of the Corcoran SHU. Despite photos of yard
fights and the Preston case, no guard was punished.
It was almost as frightening to be a parent at that
time as to be a prisoner.” (Parent of a SHU prisoner,
California, 2008)

The Way To the SHU...or Who
Is the “Worst of the Worst”?

T

he California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation gives the following five reasons
for remanding a prisoner to the SHU:

1.	 Attacking a guard.
2.	 Attacking another prisoner.
3.	 Weapons violations.
4.	 Drug sales.
5.	 Validation as a gang member.
AFSC’s experience demonstrates that prisoners
with radical political views, prisoners who
demonstrate leadership abilities, and “jail house
lawyers” are often held in the SHU—some of
them for decades. We would be remiss if we
did not add this to the “official list.” “Security
Threat Groups” (STGs) is another classification
prisons use for people they consider a threat.
In California, the term “Disruptive Group”

is used for such prisoners. These and similar
designations carry heavy political overtones. Just
as the term “terrorist” is applied very broadly
today, particularly to people of Arab descent,
prisoners labeled “threatening,” “dangerous,”
or simply “disruptive” can find themselves in
long-term isolation. An argument can be made
that the first security housing units in the federal
prison in Marion, and later in Florence, were
created to punish political activists caught up
in COINTELPRO, organizing for Puerto Rican
liberation, sovereignty for First Nations peoples,
and other forms of self determination. Though
political prisoners make up a small portion of the
2.3 million people currently imprisoned in the
U.S., in AFSC’s experience over the years, they
make up a disturbingly large percentage of the
control unit population.
According to the CDCR, the first four of the
above five reasons for segregating prisoners
carry determinate time periods in the SHU. The
Department claims that the average determinate
term for the SHU in 2005–2006 was 109 days.8
While the first four reasons are behavior-based,
the fifth reason for confinement is threat-based.
In other words, prisoners are sent there not for
something they did, but for who someone judges
them to be. It is this reason that assigns a prisoner
to a SHU for an indeterminate period of time.
By law, all other reasons for SHU confinement
require that a definite time be set, but the CDCR
has unlimited discretion to re-classify someone
from determinate to indeterminate. In other
words, prisoners who have not actually done
anything are the ones who serve the longest
time in these units. According to State Senator
Gloria Romero, “A validated gang member could
conceivably spend the rest of his life in a SHU.”9

8	
California Department of Corrections Population Report.
9	
Romero, Gloria, Select Senate Committee on the California
Correctional System: Hearing, September 15, 2003.
7

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

Validation as a gang member comes about at
the discretion of prison staff. It is based on
information, from at least three sources, that
a person is involved in, or associated with,
gang activities including drug trade, ordering
attacks of adversaries in other prisoner groups,
or orchestrating assaults or murders on the
outside. Half of the nearly 3,000 SHU prisoners
in California are validated gang members. The
process used for determining their gang status
does not involve typical “due process” safeguards,
such as the right to be represented or to know the
basis of the allegations.
The appeal process is highly frustrating and as far
as the administrative level goes…appeals are lost,
misplaced, or delayed regularly. Even when properly
filed/reviewed, the complained violation is never
addressed with any expediency or efficiency…Prison
officials operate on a code of silence and will act very
slowly, if at all, to correct or hold one of their own
accountable when they are found to be in violation.
(Corcoran SHU Prisoner, 2006)
The Winter 2007 issue of Prison Focus from
California Prison Focus contained a letter from
Victor C. Rodriguez demonstrating that prisoners
using the Native American language “Nahautl”
have been validated as gang members. He writes:
“At any time, officers search cells and are instructed
to confiscate our art, Nahuatl studies, and any
Nahuatl literature. The reason, we’re told: ‘gangrelated.’ This is nothing but culture deprivation, as
well as racial discrimination.”
According to CDCR officials, California
uses a point system in its “formal validation
investigation.” An institutional gang investigator
gathers the “evidence.” As little as three sources
or points of evidence can validate a person.
After gathering the evidence the investigator
will sit down with the prisoner and discuss non-

8

confidential information, which the prisoner can
then attempt to rebut.
Our research paints a somewhat more arbitrary
picture. The use of the “gang” label by prison
authorities is fraught with racial stereotyping and
political repression. What is sometimes labeled
a gang could be a group of activist prisoners
who are organizing on their own behalf. The
actual definition of “gang”, found in the CDCR
Operations Manual, reads:
“A gang is defined as any ongoing formal or
informal organization, association, or group of three
or more persons, which has a common name or
identifying sign or symbol whose members and/or
associates engage or have engaged on behalf of that
organization, association, or group in two or more
illicit activities which include, but are not limited
to, planning, organizing, threatening, financing,
soliciting or committing unlawful acts or acts of
misconduct classified as serious pursuant to CCR
Section 3315.” (Sec. 52070.16)
In addition to this description, “recognized
disruptive groups” include “revolutionary groups,”
“motorcycle gangs,” “precursor gangs that might
become prison gangs,” and “terrorist groups/
affiliates.” (Sec. 52070.17.4)
Despite the fact that 51 percent of the states
surveyed in a 1997 Department of Justice
publication did not have a uniform definition of a
gang or Security Threat Group (STG), individuals
are “validated” as gang members by prison staff
and administration. 80 percent did not have a
formal validation process. Yet all but one state
had developed a STG policy and departments of
corrections throughout the country have spent
millions of dollars identifying gang members,
constructing “gang blocks” or units, and creating

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

As a result of
these practices,
a person can be
placed in the SHU

programs to
“debrief” gang
members who are
willing to renounce
their affiliation.10

indefinitely, on

As a result of these
mere hearsay or the practices, a person
can be placed in the
slimmest evidence.
SHU indefinitely, on
mere hearsay or the
slimmest evidence. And because of the intensely
racial nature of gang designations, a person’s
racial identity can be the primary motivator in
the “validation” process. Not surprisingly, those
imprisoned in the gang units throughout the
U.S. are primarily young people and/or people
of color. Once isolated in one of these units,
prisoners report that the only way to secure release
is to “renounce, parole, or die.” According to
CDCR specifications, it is also possible to become
“inactive,” but this requires six years in the SHU
with no identified contact or gang related activity.

Parole, Snitch, or Die?

H

ow do SHU prisoners gain release from
such harsh conditions and find their way
back to the “mainline?” It is possible for a
prisoner to “debrief” with department officials
about his or her gang experience. In some contexts
this is seen as “snitching” and comes with huge
risks to the person “giving evidence.” As with all
coerced situations, desperation can cause people
to say anything, or implicate anyone, just to find
relief. As human rights advocates have maintained
throughout history, reliable information does not
come from torturing suspects.

10	 Magnani, Laura, and Harmon L. Wray, Beyond Prisons:
A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System,
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006, p. 103.

Some SHU prisoners are serving fixed
sentences and are released directly from solitary
confinement. The danger to the public of such
practices is self evident: people going from
extreme sensory deprivation, with little human
contact over a long period, have an extremely
difficult time transitioning to life outside.
“I also want to find out what happens when a
prisoner paroles out of a SHU and back into a
community. Since the year 2000, there have been
403 paroles directly from SHUs in California. The
record overall indicates that the vast majority go
back in. The recidivism rate of a SHU is about 78
percent . . . This recidivism rate is much higher
than a normal recidivism rate from a regular yardout-into-the-community at 66 percent.” (Senator
Gloria Romero, Chair, Senate Select Committee
on California Correctional System: Hearing,
September 15, 2003.)
The final way out, prisoners tell us, is death. This
may come from “natural causes” or by suicide. As
Kevin Johnson reported in USA Today, California,
which has the largest state prison system in the
nation, saw a total of 41 suicides in 2006. Of those
suicides, 69 percent were in solitary confinement
cells.11

The Mental Illness Factor
“Living behind these walls is a nightmare that
never goes away. Many prisoners behind these
walls are going crazy in record numbers, and are
becoming more violent than they have ever been in
their lives.” (California SHU Prisoner)

I

t is a well-established fact that long-term
isolation is detrimental to mental health.
“Empirical research on solitary and
supermax-like confinement has consistently
11	

Op. cit., Johnson.
9

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

and unequivocally documented the harmful
consequences of living in these kinds of
environments.” Studies undertaken over four
decades corroborate such an assertion.12

Table 2: Symptoms of Psychological and Emotional Trauma

	
Symptom	

% Presence Among
Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners

Anxiety, nervousness	

91

Headaches	

88

Lethargy, chronic tiredness	

84

Trouble sleeping	

84

Impending nervous breakdown	

70

Perspiring hands	

68

Loss of appetite	

68

Dizziness	

56

Nightmares	

55

Hands trembling	

51

Tingling sensation 	

19

Harvard University
Medical School
syndrome, which in
psychiatrist Dr.
its worst stages can Stuart Grassian has
lead to agitation,
found, and courts
have recognized,
hallucinations,
that solitary
and a confused
confinement can
psychotic state.
cause a specific
kind of psychiatric
syndrome, which in its worst stages can lead
to agitation, hallucinations, and a confused
psychotic state. Symptoms can include random
violence, self-mutilation, and suicidal behavior
(Kerness 1996, p. 3).

Fainting	

17

In a series of interviews Craig Haney conducted
with 100 randomly selected Pelican Bay
supermax prisoners, he found very high levels
of psychological and emotional trauma and of
psychopathology.

As noted in a briefing paper by Human Rights
Watch (HRW), “Prisoners subjected to prolonged
isolation may experience depression, despair,
anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, hallucinations,
problems with impulse control, and an impaired
ability to think,
Solitary
concentrate, or
remember” (HRW,
confinement can
2000).
cause a specific
kind of psychiatric

Although Haney did not specifically test his
subjects for all the factors identified by Grassian
as determining “SHU Syndrome,” there were
12	 Haney, Craig, “Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary
and ‘Supermax’ Confinement,” in Crime and Delinquency, Vol.
49, No. 1, January 2003, pp. 124-156.
10

Table 3: Psychopathological Effects of Prolonged Isolation

	
Symptom	

% Presence Among
Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners

Ruminations	

88

Irrational anger	

88

Oversensitivity to stimuli	

86

Confused thought process	

84

Social withdrawal	

83

Chronic depression	

77

Emotional flatness	

73

Mood, emotional swings	

71

Overall deterioration	

67

Talking to self	

63

Violent fantasies	

61

Perceptual distortions	

44

Hallucinations	

41

Suicidal thoughts	

27

high percentages of prisoners suffering from
similar symptoms: heightened anxiety (91%),
hyperresponsivity to external stimuli (86%), wide
mood swings (71%), aggressive fantasies (61%),
perceptual distortions (44%), and hallucinations

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

(41%). An astounding 56 percent of the sample
experienced at least five of these symptoms.
Perhaps even more disturbing is the percentage
of prisoners with pre-existing mental conditions
who are assigned to these units. Two studies, one
conducted by Hodgins and Cote in 1991, and
another by Lowell, Cloyes, Allen and Rhodes in
2000, found that 29 percent of prisoners in longterm segregation units had at least one predefined
indication of serious mental illness.13
There are a number of explanations for this. One
is inadequate mental health treatment coupled
with a tendency for mentally ill prisoners to act
out and break rules, especially when they have not
been adequately treated for their mental disorder.
Once in segregation, the conditions cause their
mental disorders to worsen, leading to longer SHU
terms and more acting out.
In California, valiant efforts have been made
to challenge the treatment and conditions of
mentally ill prisoners, including those in SHU and
Administrative Segregation. The Madrid v. Gomez
case forced Pelican Bay State Prison to remove all
mentally ill prisoners from its SHU and screen
incoming prisoners to prevent their assignment
to SHU.14 Two new units, called Psychiatric
Services Units (PSUs), were established for these
psychiatric prisoners and two levels of services
establish minimum standards for their treatment.
In Correctional Clinical Case Management
(3CMS), prisoners are locked down in traditional
housing units (not sensory deprivation units), a
psychiatric technician checks on them daily, and
they have some form of contact with a professional
once a week—either a one-on-one session or a
group session. Perhaps one of the eeriest features
of these professional contacts is that the patient is
usually removed from his/her cell (handcuffed,
13	
14	

IBID, p. 142.
The case is reported at 889 F.Supp. 1146 (N.D. Cal. 1995).

shackled and searched) and placed in a cage
(called a “treatment module”), for the duration
of the “treatment” session. In group sessions, the
professional conducts his/her “therapy” in a room
full of cages.
The other psychiatric designation is “enhanced”
out patient services or EOPs. These prisoners
receive what is available to 3CMFs, and are
allowed out of their cells for ten hours a week
in addition to the
For a prisoner
time they need for
showers and exercise.
in one of these
They are not double
cells, it is truly an
celled at Pelican
experience of being
Bay, but may be
double celled at other
buried alive.
facilities. Prisoners
held in Administrative Segregation, primarily at
Corcoran, Tehachapi, and the Central California
Women’s Facility, are usually double celled.
The Madrid v. Gomez decision only brought relief
to prisoners at Pelican Bay because that prison’s
architecture, indeed the way it was intentionally
designed, prohibits any visual contact with the
outside world. The only window a prisoner has is
a narrow piece of glass on their doors, which looks
out on a corridor or a wall. For a prisoner in one
of these cells, it is truly an experience of being
buried alive.
The other SHUs in the state were the subject of
the Coleman v. Wilson case, which applies to
mental health services throughout the system.15
A special master monitors implementation of
the court’s remedial plan and reports back to the
court. Plaintiff’s attorneys continue to do their
own monitoring and work closely with the special
master. One reported, “The Department has no
sense of urgency that housing people in lock down

15	

The case is reported at 912 F.Supp. 1282 (E.D. Cal. 1995).
11

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

forever is a problem.”16 California had 43 suicides
in its facilities in 2007, 70 percent of which were
in segregation units. The number was similar in
2006. It amounts to 26 out of 100,000, twice the
national average for prison suicides.

environment for juvenile offenders. Under
pressure from the Prison Law Office, California
correctional officials agreed to bring in national
experts to help design a new state rehabilitative
juvenile justice system. The agreement is set forth
in a “stipulation” filed on December 1, 2005.17

Taking It To the Courts

In April 2006, a team of national experts released
a comprehensive report describing the problems in
California’s juvenile justice facilities as the result
of a “broken” system that is both overly-expensive
and ineffective. The report recommended various
reforms, including a new management structure,
and urged the state to focus efforts on reducing
the level of violence in its youth facilities.18

O

ne of the most effective ways of challenging
conditions inside prisons is to bring a civil
suit. In California, the Prison Law Office
and others have won repeatedly in the courts when
they have challenged medical care, mental health
care, excessive force, and conditions in juvenile
facilities. The following cases have directly
challenged conditions in solitary confinement:
Coleman v. Wilson — The court found that
the entire mental health system operated by the
California Department of Corrections (now
CDCR) was unconstitutional and that prison
officials were deliberately indifferent to the needs
of mentally ill inmates. All 33 institutions in the
CDCR are presently being monitored by a courtappointed special master to evaluate the CDCR’s
compliance with the court’s order.
Madrid v. Gomez — Conditions at California’s
“super-maximum” Pelican Bay State Prison have
been subject to injunctions aimed at eliminating
excessive force, improving health care and
removing prisoners with mental illness from the
Security Housing Unit. As a result of this case,
Pelican Bay is currently being monitored by a
court-appointed special master.
Farrell v. Hickman — In January 2005,
California officials and the Prison Law Office
reached an agreement on a schedule for reforming
the juvenile justice system and creating a system
that is rehabilitative and provides a therapeutic
16	 Telephone conversation with Jane Kahn, April, 2008.
12

While each of these cases is significant in
establishing a record and determining legal
findings, implementation has been extremely
difficult. Again and again a “special master” was
appointed, or, in the case of prison healthcare,
the entire health system was placed into federal
receivership. Reports were written. Attorneys
return to court to exert more pressure, and very
little changed. In February, 2008, Judge Thelton
Henderson, who had placed the prison health
system into receivership, intervened to replace
the receiver with a new person, in hopes that
progress would be made. This seems to point to
the difficulties faced both by outside and inside
“experts” to remedy abuses and put humane
systems in place. The prison movement is deeply
indebted to the attorneys who fight these cases
and to the courageous judges who uphold prisoner
rights. However, the California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation seems consistently
to be able to undermine the decisions and delay
compliance.19
17	 “Stipulation Regarding California Youth Authority
Remedial Efforts,” www.prisonlaw.com/pdfs/CYASTIP.pdf.
18	 “Safety and Welfare Plan: Implementing Reform in
California,” www.prisonlaw.com/pdfs/DJJSafetyPlan.pdf.
19	 For further information on these and other cases, see
www.prisonlaw.com.

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

Plata v. Davis — In the largest ever prison class
action lawsuit, prisoners alleged that California
officials inflicted cruel and unusual punishment
by being deliberately indifferent to serious medical
needs. A settlement agreement filed in 2002
requires the California Department of Corrections
to completely overhaul its medical care policies
and procedures, and to pump significant resources
into the prisons to ensure timely access to
adequate care. The settlement allows the state to
phase in the new policies and procedures over
several years and gives an independent medical
panel the responsibility to audit the state’s
progress.

Youth and Isolation
Background: Children Are Different

“Our society recognizes that juveniles differ from
adults in their decision-making capacities as
reflected in laws regarding voting, driving, access
to alcoholic beverages, consent to treatment, and
contracting. . . Adolescents are cognitively and
emotionally less mature than adults. They are less
able than adults to consider the consequences of
their behavior, they are easily swayed by peers,
and they may show poor judgment. We also
know that teens who have been victims of abuse
or have witnessed violence may show increased
levels of emotional arousal and a tendency to
overreact to perceived threats. Victims of child
abuse and neglect are overrepresented among
incarcerated juveniles. . . Studies of this population
consistently demonstrate a high incidence of
mental disorders, serious brain injuries, substance
abuse, and learning disabilities, which may
predispose to aggressive or violent behaviors. In
many instances, these juveniles have not received
adequate diagnostic assessments or interventions.”
—American Academy of Child and Adolescent
Psychiatry, 2000.

I

n Buried Alive: Solitary Confinement in
Arizona’s Prisons and Jails, a 2007 report for
the American Friends Service Committee,
Isaacs and Lowen describe the dangers of
incarceration, and especially the effects of
isolation of juveniles. Recent scientific research
reveals that children’s brains develop more slowly
than previously believed. Using the relatively new
technology of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),
scientists have discovered that the frontal lobe
of the brain—the area that governs emotions—
undergoes far more change during adolescence
than in any other stage of life. Furthermore, the
frontal lobe is the last part of the brain to develop.
According to the Juvenile Justice Committee of
the American Bar Association, “The evidence
13

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

is now strong that the brain does not cease to
mature until the early 20s in those relevant parts
that govern impulsivity, judgment, planning
for the future, foresight of consequences, and
other characteristics that make people morally
culpable…” These findings make a strong case not
only for re-examination of law enforcement and
sentencing policies affecting juveniles, but also for
scrutiny of juvenile conditions of confinement,
particularly the use of isolation.
The Justice Policy Institute’s 2006 review, Dangers
of Detention, found a host of negative correlations
with the experience
of detention,
There is no
including indications
research to support
that it can exacerbate
a theoretical
mental illness. The
report cites one study
foundation for the
showing that for oneuse of seclusion
third of incarcerated
with children.
youth diagnosed
with depression, the
onset of depression occurred after they began
their incarceration. Even more troubling was the
finding that poor mental health and conditions
of confinement work together to make it more
likely that incarcerated teens will engage in selfharm and/or suicide. The Justice Policy Institute
found that “incarcerated youth experience from
double to four times the suicide rate of youth in the
community.”
There is an overwhelming consensus in national
correctional standards and among juvenile justice
experts and social scientists that isolation is an
ineffective therapeutic tool that is harmful to
youth and normally unnecessary for the effective
management of juvenile facilities (Zimmerman,
2005). As Linda Finke’s 2001 research on use
of seclusion for youth in mental institutions
concludes, “The experience actually may cause
additional trauma and harm. There is no research
14

to support a theoretical foundation for the use of
seclusion with children.”
United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of
Juvenile Delinquency prohibit holding children
in “closed or solitary confinement or any other
punishment that may compromise the physical or
mental health of the juvenile concerned.”
The most damning indictment of the practice of
isolating juveniles is found in the National Center
on Institutions and Alternatives 2004 report
on the correlation between isolation and youth
suicide in detention facilities. The research was
conducted by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office
of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
(OJJDP), and represents the first national survey
of juvenile suicide while in confinement. The
findings are alarming. Out of 110 juvenile suicides
occurring in juvenile correctional and detention
facilities between 1995 and 1999, 50 percent of
victims were on room confinement status at the
time of death, and 62 percent had a history of
room confinement (National Center, 2003).20
California and Juveniles

The term for lock down in California’s youth
prisons (the Division of Juvenile Justice of the
CDCR) is “special management program.”
According to the office of the Inspector General,
“Wards in the special management program
generally spend the majority of their time in their
rooms except for time allowed for showers and
exercise. The other types of restricted programs
for wards generally occur by temporarily
restricting wards to their already-assigned rooms.
Specifically, wards assigned to any living unit
can be placed on temporary detention whereby
they are isolated in their rooms for short periods
20	 Isaacs, Caroline, and Matthew Lowen, Buried Alive: Solitary
Confinement in Arizona’s Prisons and Jails, Tucson, AZ: American
Friends Service Committee, 2007, p. 44.

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

of time, generally a day or two, if they pose a
danger to themselves or others or are themselves
endangered.” However, the same report also
states “Department policy also stipulates that
the average length of assignment to the special
management program to be 60 to 90 days.”
The Inspector General said, “alternatively, an
entire living unit or facility may be placed on
administrative lockdown due to an operational
emergency when it becomes necessary to restrict a
large number of wards.” Each of these conditions
(the individual or group restriction) results in a
restricted program for a ward.21
Conditions in the so-called step down program
involves wards eating meals in their rooms, being
prevented from attending school in a classroom
away from the unit, and only being allowed
out of their room for up to two hours a day for
recreation. Dan Macallair, director of the Center
for Juvenile and Criminal Justice described the
education program as “sliding a lesson through
the food slot.”
Juvenile Demographics

Of the California youth facilities, the largest is
Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility
(Stark), with 1,200 “wards.” Preston Youth
Correctional Facility (Preston) is second with 720,
and N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility
(Chad) is third, listed as having 600 wards.22
The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) reports
the following racial breakdowns for its entire
juvenile population: 51% Hispanic; 31% African
American; 13% White; 2% Asian; 1% Filipino;
1% Native American; 1% Pacific Islander; 1%
“other.” The total population of youth in state
21	 Office of Inspector General Report, Stark, February 2007.
22	 “Data compiled by the Office of Public and Employee
Communications,” www.cdcr.ca.gov/Reports_Research/
summarys.html.

detention is 2,647, down from 10,000 just a few
years ago. Though we do not have a separate racial
breakdown for people in the special management
program, an overall population of 87 percent
people of color is shocking enough.
The largest number of youth in long-term lock
down were being held at Stark and Preston. Chad
reported just 14 youth in “temporary detention,”
which carried no actual time limit, and another
25 in some kind of transitional placement, which
appeared to carry many of the same restrictions as
the locked down units.
A youth at Stark described the counseling
program:
“‘They’re workbooks. Here. I’ll show you.’ Bringing
me his ‘counseling’ workbook, Matt showed me the
blanks he’d filled in. ‘Your officer just flips through
to make sure something’s written there, and marks it
off that you got counseling.’”23
Stark has instituted a policy of segregating
almost all “Northern Hispanics” in the special
management program, even though current
behavioral indicators would not call for such
placement. Stark staff felt that it was unsafe
to house alleged Northern and Southern gang
members together in General Population.24 The
result is that all wards are under severe restriction.
Classification

There is no uniform classification system across
institutions in the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Although a Disciplinary Decision-Making System
(DDMS) is being drafted, it was not completed as

23	 Waheed, Sumayyah, “Youth prison tours: Heman G. Stark,”
www.ellabakercenter.org, July 11, 2007.
24	 Krisberg, Barry, “DJJ Progress on the Standards and Criteria of the Safety and Welfare Remedial Plan,” September 7, 2007,
http://www.prisonlaw.com/pdfs/DJJ5thSMReportAppAB.pdf,
5th SMReport of Special Master. Appendix A.
15

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

of this writing. Based on site visits documented by
Barry Krisberg of the National Council on Crime
and Delinquency, Preston and Stark each had their
own classification
There is
procedure. At Preston
there was a point
no uniform
system that added
classification
or subtracted points
system across
from an initial
classification made by
institutions in the
DDMS criteria. Stark
Department of
did not use a formal
Juvenile Justice.
point system, but
seems to assign wards
to units based on staff observations. As indicated
in the Office of the Inspector General’s report on
High Risk policies, “The special review also found
that the facility’s transitional program (at Chad),
intended to help wards transition from its special
management program, is essentially an extension
of the special management program without
formal policies that provide critical protections for
such a restricted program.”25
Though there are a number of requirements about
how long a ward can be locked down, and how
many educational services they should receive,
there is no enforcement mechanism to ensure
these guidelines are followed. The California
Education Code mandates a minimum of
four hours a day of instruction for high school
students. Section 7219 of the Institutions and
Camps Branch Manual requires education services
by the second day after placement in restricted
housing. However, when the inspector general
selected six dates for examination in 2006, he
could find evidence that only two of the wards, of
the 323 held in restricted housing, had received
instruction of any kind on those dates—less than
1 percent (OIG Stark High Risk, February 2007).
One teacher for the special management program
25	
16

Op cit. OIG, Stark, February 2007.

provided one hour of instruction per student per
day. According to the Inspector General, at that
rate a ward would work with the teacher once
every eighteen days. At Chad, the estimate was
that youth receive approximately 40 percent of the
educational services required by law.
Conditions

In 2007, Barry Krisberg of the National Council
on Crime and Delinquency reported the
following: “I made a physical inspection of
restricted units at Stark, Preston, and Chad and
generally found that the conditions in these units
were deplorable. The cells were dimly lighted,
there was graffiti throughout the units, sanitation
conditions were below standards of decency in
the rooms and in the hallways, and plumbing in
the cells worked intermittently or poorly… The
general living conditions were, in my opinion,
oppressive and punitive—certainly not conducive
to treatment and rehabilitation.”
“Outside recreation for most youths in restricted
housing is still limited to barren cage-like
structures with virtually no recreational
equipment. It is difficult to see how this
programming meets the legal standard for large
muscle exercise.”26

26	

Op cit. Krisberg.

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

Human Rights Protocols

O

ne of the places that torture in prisons,
and other human rights abuses, can be
addressed is through United Nations
conventions and covenants to which the U.S.
is a party. There are three U.N. treaties that
apply to prison conditions: The International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),
the International Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD),
and the Convention Against Torture and Other
Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment. The AFSC has been documenting
human rights abuses in prisons for many years,
and forwarded the documentation to appropriate
U.N. committees, considering U.S. compliance
with these agreements.
Bonnie Kerness of the Newark AFSC office
explained the work of these committees in a
presentation at Emory University in February,
2008:
“The conditions and practices that the imprisoned
testify to are in violation of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations
Convention Against Torture, and the United
Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms
of Racial Discrimination. U.S. prison practices also
violate dozens of other international treaties and fit
the United Nations definition of genocide.
Article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture
prohibits policies and practices that ‘constitute cruel,
inhuman or degrading punishment.’ The history of
international attention to these issues is compelling.
In 1995, the UN Human Rights Committee stated
that conditions in certain U.S. maximum security
prisons were incompatible with international
standards. In 1996, the UN Special Rapporteur on
Torture reported on cruel, inhuman and degrading
treatment in U.S. supermax prisons.  In 1998, the
Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women

took testimony in California on the ill treatment of
women in U.S. prisons. In 2000 the United Nations
Committee on Torture roundly condemned the
U.S. for its treatment of prisoners, citing supermax
prisons and the use of torture devices, as well as the
practice of jailing youth with adults. The use of stun
belts and restraints chairs were also cited as violating
the U.N. Convention against Torture. In May of
2006, the same committee concluded that the U.S.
should ‘review the regimen imposed on detainees in
supermaximum prisons, in particular, the practice
of prolonged isolation.’  
“In 1998 and again in 2005, the AFSC contributed
to the World Organization Against Torture and
Prison Reform International’s  Shadow Reports on
the Status of Compliance by the U.S. Government
with the International Convention Against
Torture.  We found that the U.S. was not meeting
its obligations under that treaty. Given what has
happened at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and
given that the entire Executive Branch of the U.S.
government seems to sanction torture, it becomes
imperative that we as advocates give more long-term
attention to what is happening to people in U.S.
prisons.” 27
In 2007, AFSC worked closely with the U.S.
Human Rights Network to produce a shadow
report on the use of solitary confinement in
U.S. prisons as a violation of the International
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Documenting
violations of these covenants and conventions
is one strategy the STOPMAX campaign will be
using to impact policy change with regard to the
use of, and conditions in, long-term lock down.

27	 Kerness, Bonnie, presentation at Emory University,
February 2008, on behalf of AFSC.
17

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons

Recommendations

A

s stated in AFSC’s Arizona report
on supermax, Buried Alive: Solitary
Confinement in Arizona’s Prisons and Jails,
“It is the position of the American Friends
Service Committee that long-term solitary
confinement is ineffective and inappropriate
in all circumstances.” To that end, the AFSC is
embarking on a national STOPMAX campaign,
which is being launched in May, 2008. However,
understanding that significant social change takes
time, and that violence within prisons is a serious
problem, we propose a series of interim steps that
should be taken as soon as possible to reduce the
use of isolation, and to increase oversight and due
process.
1.	 Wherever solitary confinement is used in
government-run institutions, or in privatelyowned prisons, an independent body must
be in place to monitor conditions and report
publicly about its findings. Such an office must
be adequately staffed, have full access to the
institution, its records, and the prisoners held
there, and the means to publish its reports and
make them widely available.
2.	 No juvenile should be held in solitary
confinement conditions for longer than
twenty-four hours.
3.	 No person, of any age, with a history of or
symptoms of mental illness should be held in
solitary confinement.
4.	 All persons placed in isolation, either for
disciplinary reasons or for administrative
control, must be given due process in a
timely manner: to be represented by counsel,
to see the evidence against them, to have
proceedings recorded, and to have their cases
reviewed every six months.

18

5.	 Prisoners held in protective custody should
have access to the full range of programming,
privileges, visits and other activities available
to people in the general prison population.
6.	 Transitional units should be established to
enable prisoners to come out of isolation and
prepare for life on the mainline or life on
the outside. All prisoners with release dates
within six months must be given transitional
services for no less than three months prior to
release. Such services must include psychiatric
components, pre-release counseling and
planning, socialization and life skills training.
Under no circumstances should these services
be behavior modification programs that
impose additional punishments. Neither
should they be provided primarily through
workbook lessons assigned to individuals
in isolation.

American Friends
Service Committee

 

 

PLN Subscribe Now Ad
Advertise Here 4th Ad
Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual - Side