California prison inmates are complaining about required security checks that require guards to check on them every 30 minutes. The purpose of the checks is so that inmates do not try to hurt or kill themselves. The inmates are saying that the checks are essentially a form of torture and sleep deprivation.
The protest comes less than a month after a settlement was reached to stop extremely long periods of solitary confinement, lasting up to decades at a time.
The security checks are based on a 1995 court case that determined that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) was not doing enough to care for prisoners with mental illnesses.
Some prisons started instituting the checks in 2006, but others implemented them at later dates.
The checks are particularly troublesome for inmates in secure housing units, better known as solitary confinement or the SHU. These inmates are constantly subjected to banging metal doors, buzzers, and having flashlights shined upon them.
Inmates housed in the SHU spend anywhere between 22 and 23 hours per day in 8ft by 10ft room with no windows. They are not allowed to have physical contact with visitors, and they cannot use the phone. Additionally, they cannot participate in helpful educational and recreational programs.
Spokesperson for the CDCR Terry Thorton stated that the agency has provided ear plugs for inmates, and they have mandated that the guards wear softer shoes that they make less noise that could potentially wake sleeping inmates.
However, relatives of inmates say that their locked-up loved ones are not satisfied.
The mother of an inmate, Dolores Canales, said, “I visited my son in the Pelican Bay SHU, and he is going crazy from not being able to sleep. I’ve never seen him like this. He couldn’t think, and he fell asleep while I was talking with him from across the glass partition.”
Canales was a part of a group of protesters that gathered at Pelican Bay Prison to fight against the security check requirement. They had banners that said “Sleep deprivation is Torture”.
Inmates are disputing the checks, saying that they violate the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Eighth Amendment bans cruel and unusual punishment.
Some attorneys are stating that the 1995 court case never mandated the prisons to conduct security checks but rather that the prisons had to develop some method of suicide prevention.
There have been multiple reports of guards abusing this system by making excessive noise by stomping, jingling their keys, and slamming doors.
Some inmates believe that the guards have been abusing the practice at a higher rate following the settlement that banned excessively lengthy stays in solitary confinement. Prisoners used to be locked in solitary confinement indefinitely, based on their status as gang members.
It will be interesting to see if the prison inmates will be able to reduce the frequency of these security checks. They certainly have a case that can be made.