SF Gate — A federal judge has given the go-ahead to a suit by inmates of Pelican Bay State Prison on California's North Coast who are held in isolation for a decade or more in windowless, concrete cells, with no way out, they say, except the potentially lethal choice of turning informant.
The inmates' allegations, if proved, could show that conditions in the prison's Security Housing Unit violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, Chief U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland said Tuesday.
She said the inmates may also be able to show that prison officials deny them due process of law by placing them in the housing unit based on secondhand allegations of gang affiliation and by keeping them there until they agree to "debrief" by admitting their gang ties and becoming informers.
State officials say they no longer require debriefing as a way out of the housing unit. Under a pilot project that started in October, they say, inmates in high-security housing around the state are having their cases reviewed individually, and 86 prisoners, including 35 at Pelican Bay, have been approved for transfer to the general prison population.
Wilken noted that the project is scheduled to end in October 2014 and rejected the state's request to put the case on hold until then. At a hearing last month, she said the inmates' complaints about debriefing might be removed from the suit if the new review process became permanent. continue reading...