“Does CDCR have solitary confinement?” is the first question on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s “restricted housing” webpage.
The answer? “No.”
That answer would surprise the thousands currently held in solitary confinement (CDCR uses the euphemism “restricted housing’) in California’s prisons and jails. (The United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules define solitary confinement, which it stipulates is torture, as locking a person in a cell with no meaningful human contact for 22 hours or more a day.)
California is an outlier in its use of solitary confinement. Until the landmark lawsuit, Ashker v. Brown, which temporarily ended long-term solitary confinement throughout California state prisons in 2015, the state had more people in solitary for longer periods than any other state. For hundreds of people, it meant total solitude for 23 to 24 hours a day for more than ten years.
In the final hours of last month’s legislative session, sponsors pulled California Assembly Bill 280, which would have limited the time corrections officials could restrict those imprisoned in the state’s jails, prisons, and immigration centers in solitary confinement because of a likely veto from Gov. Gavin Newsom. He had vetoed a bill that passed the legislature last year that would have abolished the practice because it was “too expansive” and which CDCR said was “too expensive.” After the veto, Newsom said he would direct CDCR “to develop regulations that would restrict the use of segregated confinement except in limited situations, such as where the individual has been found to have engaged in violence in the prison,” the LA Times reported.
A year after Newsom ordered the new regulations, they were finally released earlier this month.They are hardly “a significant step forward in [CDCR’s} commitment to reduce the use of restricted housing,” that CDCR Secretary Jeff Macomber claimed they were in a news release.
They reduce the number of offenses that can send a person to solitary confinement and limit the offenses to acts of violence, threats of violence, or possession of weapons. They increase the time for those in solitary to be outside their cell to 20 hours per week, up from the 10 hours they are currently allowed.
But they set no time limits on how long a person can be confined in solitary, violating the Mandela Rules, which stipulate it should “be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review,” and prohibit indefinite solitary confinement — defined as more than 15 consecutive days or 45 days in a six-month period. There is no mention of those who are pregnant, or have mental or physical disabilities whose condition could be exacerbated by the isolation, in another violation of the Mandela Rules.
In short, it’s difficult to understand why CDCR Secretary Macomber is “proud” of what he calls “these common sense changes.”
(For more information on solitary confinement, our recent webinar, “The Torture of Solitary Confinement,” is available on demand on our YouTube channel here.)