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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Ashker v. Brown Receives Class-Action Status

The struggle against solitary confinement in CA continues. This week, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken awarded Ashker v. Brown class action status, enabling the inmates to challenge long-term solitary confinement beyond their particular circumstances.

A bit of background (for more than a bit, go here): California has been building and using supermax prisons with SHU units since the 1980s. There are two main ways to find oneself in solitary: either you are disciplined for an infraction of prison regulation, or you are suspected of an association with a gang. In the former case, your stay will be limited; in the latter case, you could be placed in solitary confinement indefinitely, with your only options of departure being "parole, snitch, or die." The second of these consists of a process called "gang validation", in which the person provides information on other gang members--a process that yields a lot of inaccuracy because of the unhealthy incentives. The result is that people have spent years, and sometimes decades, in regimes that cause untold medical and mental health hardships, without human contact, with limited access to books, and sometimes, double-celled in very close quarters (which sort of defies the purpose and is, in Keramet Reiter's words, "differently horrible.")

The struggle against solitary confinement has led CA inmates to conduct three hunger strikes, the last of which was fairly recent and claimed at lesat one death that I know of. The background to the hunger strike is best explained in this fascinating read. The strike ended with a legislative promise to conduct hearings about the effects of solitary and the humanitarian implications. Said hearings were, indeed, conducted, and yielded a bill that, if enacted, would limit the correctional authorities' ability to inflict indefinite solitary confinement.

At the same time, litigation proceeded, with today's decision to grant class action marking one more step toward a public debate about the value of this punitive, cruel regime.

Posted by Hadar Aviram on June 4, 2014 at 08:53 PM | Permalink

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