Long abandoned by many states, the practice is a last resort for California authorities struggling to thwart gang activity and extract information from the most hardened members. Critics say it amounts to torture.
U.S. prisons typically reserve solitary confinement for inmates who commit serious offenses behind bars. In California, however, suspected gang members, even those with clean prison records, can be held in isolation indefinitely with no legal recourse. (Los Angeles Times)
Indeed, hundreds have been kept for more than a decade in 8-by-10-foot cells, with virtually no human contact for nearly 23 hours per day. Dozens have spent more than two decades in solitary, according to state figures.
It’s a harsh fate even by prison standards: Under current policy, an inmate who kills a guard faces a maximum of five years of isolation.
Long abandoned by many states, the practice of indefinite solitary confinement persists in California as a last resort for prison officials struggling to thwart gang activity and extract information from the most hardened gang members.
The policy attracted international attention earlier this summer, when thousands of protesting California inmates joined a three-week hunger strike by prisoners at the state’s maximum-security lockup at Pelican Bay.
Administrators say the violent gang culture is so entrenched in state prisons that isolation is the only way to keep leaders from ordering killings, rapes and assaults on staff and other inmates.
But critics say the unending confinement amounts to torture.