The life of imprisoned gang leaders in California prisons got a little easier yesterday with the announcement the State will put an end to its unlimited isolation policy that has seen some inmates kept in segregated cells for ten years or longer.
The move follows a class action courtroom victory for the New York based Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of 3,000 inmates held in isolation in California’s prisons.
Jeffrey Beard, California's Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary said the State will now only isolate inmates who commit new crimes while in prison, and that it will no longer lock up gang leaders in windowless, sound proofed cells to stop them from directing gang members to commit illegal activities.
"It will move California more into the mainstream of what other states are doing while still allowing us the ability to deal with people who are presenting problems within our system, but do so in a way where we rely less on the use of segregation," said Beard.
Over the last few months California's isolation policy has drawn wide criticism from US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and president Barack Obama following widespread hunger strikes protests by prisoners in protest.
The successful lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2009, argued that isolating prisoners in 80-square-foot cells for all but 1 ½ hours per day, with no physical contact with visitors and limited reading materials and outside world communication, was an unusual and cruel punishment.
Under the settlement, prisoners can still be isolated for up to five years for crimes they commit behind bars.
Beard said the isolation system began 35 years ago after a string of killings of both inmates and guards.
"We probably had too many people locked up too long, because over 70 percent of the people that were reviewed were actually released, and we've had very, very few problems with those releases," said Beard.