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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Relief for Gang Member Sparks Strident Rebuke

Courthouse News ServiceReleasing a lifer from a gang housing unit ignored evidence that he remained "the No. 1 man" in a prison's Aryan Brotherhood, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.

California prison officials validated Robert Lee Griffin as a leader of the white supremacist prison gang in 1979, nine years after he was originally imprisoned for robbery and burglary. Because of the Aryan Brotherhood's "blood in, blood out" mantra, Griffin has spent years in a security housing unit, or SHU, to protect other inmates from him and his underlings.

Griffin first sought release from the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison in 1992 on grounds that the conditions - 22 hours per day in a windowless cell, little to no interaction with other inmates, and closely supervised library time and visitation - constituted cruel and unusual punishment. He joined an unsuccessful federal class action of inmates claiming the same thing in 1995's Madrid v. Gomez.

Despite a ruling in Madrid that SHUs did not general violate the Eighth Amendment, U.S. District Judge James Ware found in 2006 that Griffin's confinement at Pelican Bay was cruel and unusual.

The judge said prison officials failed to present evidence that Griffin remained active in the Aryan Brotherhood and never afforded him the opportunity show that he had "retired."

Ware ordered Griffin's immediate release from the Pelican Bay SHU. By then, however, Griffin had been convicted of violating federal anti-racketeering law related to his Aryan Brotherhood leadership.

Griffin returned to Pelican Bay in 2007 after spending five years in prison to serve out the life sentence on the RICO charges. He was placed in an administrative segregation unit while officials investigated his gang affiliation. continue reading...

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