Ending or substantially modifying prison policies that keep inmates locked in isolation cells for extended periods with little oversight is a no-brainer. For years, correctional workers have tried to justify keeping certain offenders in tight, windowless, stuffy, square concrete boxes passed off as jail cells. The theory is that some prisoners are too dangerous to be allowed to mingle with others in general populations. Often, prisoners who have committed crimes of violence while in the facility, attempted to escape, or have a gang affiliation, are carved from the general mass and placed in solitary confinement. The conditions are gruesome, no human contact, no reading or other communicative stimuli—for 23 hours a day. When they are permitted out of their box, again, no contact with others, beyond the cold feel of the shackles the guards harness them in as they briefly leave their cells. As draconian as the process is, truth be told, there simply are some inmates that are too dangerous to mix with others. There are cases where an inmate will lash out with a shank to slash the throat of another inmate or guard for little or no reason. Such people have zero regards for authority and must be confined. But even these people deserve the right to receive psychiatric care and medications.
California prisons will seriously change the state’s prison policies regarding solitary confinement. The New York Times reports that “California has agreed to an overhaul of its use of solitary confinement in its prisons, including strict limits on the prolonged isolation of inmates, as part of a landmark legal settlement filed in federal court on Tuesday”.
California has led the country in the number of inmates locked up in solitary confinement cells. The Times reports that 2,858 people are confined in such units, more than a third of which are housed in the infamous Pelican Bay—a California facility fraught with complaints of subhuman treatment.
The lawsuit brought on behalf of the California inmates comes on the heels of a successful federal suit filed against the Florence Federal Prison on behalf of inmates there.