LA Times — A federal judge in Oakland has granted inmates in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison class action status in their claims of unconstitutional treatment.
The inmates allege physical and psychological abuse when California puts inmates in Pelican Bay's windowless isolation cells. The prisoners are confined 22 hours a day and, in some cases, have been in solitary for years and decades at a time.
The Pelican Bay inmates, in their federal lawsuit, also challenged the administrative process California uses to determine who to send to the super-maximum security cells for an indefinite stay.
A spokesman for the state corrections department said the agency was still reviewing the order and had no immediate comment.
In courtroom proceedings, lawyers for the state have argued that isolation is necessary to keep the peace within prisons, and to hinder gang activity inside and outside prison walls. They said that by creating a so-called "step-down" program last year that allows some prisoners to eventually earn their way out of isolation, the state had made sufficient improvements.
In her ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken narrowed the class action case to just those Pelican Bay inmates who have not been accepted into the state's step-down program.
Civil rights lawyers litigating the case say they hope a victory will set a national precedent on the use of extended isolation in prisons across the United States. continue reading...