An Open Letter to Jerry Brown: Stop the Torture of Solitary Confinement
Portside Date:
Author: Carole Travis, Stop the Torture
Date of source:
Huffington Post
Today marks the first day of the 4th week of the California Prison Hunger Strike. On July 8 when the prisoners began their hunger strike to call attention to this torture, 30,000 inmates across California stopped eating. Saturday morning we learned that Billy Michael Sell housed in the Corcoran SHU (Solitary Housing Unit) died last Monday. Today over 600 men have only had water for 22 days. They protest their long-term torture. California is one of 19 states that use long term, often indefinite, solitary confinement and by far and away has the largest numbers of prisoners in solitary -- over 10,000.
Prisoners are not sentenced to solitary for their street crime. Prison officials assign them to this crushing isolation without due process, without review of the evidence against them, without legal representation or an impartial hearing. The deciding agency is made up of prison guards who have risen in the ranks through time. At Pelican Bay, California's super max, the men who decide the fate of the prisoners are white and have lived their lives in Crescent City with a population of around 9,000 people 15 miles south of the Oregon border. They believe they understand the culture of the prisoners, largely from major urban areas and communities of color because they have studied them in their cages for years. As a result of the July 2011 hunger strike there has been an impartial review panel deciding if those in solitary belong there. The panel found 68% of the prisoners they reviewed should be immediately transferred out of solitary into the General Prison Population.
The August (2013) issue of Scientific American highlights the ineffectiveness of solitary confinement to reduce crime in prison. It does have the capacity to induce or exacerbate mental illness. The practice is deemed cruel, inhumane, and ineffective. As the editors point out, "new research suggests that solitary confinement creates more violence both inside and outside prison walls." (p.10). Mr. Juan Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture defines 15 days in solitary confinement as torture.
We are compelled to write this Open Letter to Governor Brown to step in and stop the torture. We ask you to join us and sign our letter
Stop the Torture of Solitary Confinement
Well over ten thousand adult prisoners are currently being held in some form of solitary confinement in California prisons - 80,000 in total across the United States.
Among the worst form of solitary confinement is the indefinite and long-term, extreme isolation of the Security Housing Units (the SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, California's "supermax". Locked in a 11'7" x 7'7" windowless concrete box/cell for at least 22 « hours a day, day in day out, year after year, prisoners endure without sunlight, fresh air or human touch. In contrast to every other system in the United States, prisoners can't even receive a phone call unless a family member has died.
Over 500 prisoners have been locked down in the Pelican Bay SHU for over 10 years. About 80 of them have been in solitary for over 20 years and at least two prisoners have been isolated for over 40 years. This is a policy that condemns to permanent life long isolation.
Extended solitary confinement is globally recognized as torture. Cut off from any normal human interaction, enduring sensory and physical deprivation, many prisoners describe their lockdown in the SHU as being "buried alive". The State of California asserts that solitary confinement is not a form of punishment, but rather an "administrative assignment" to insure the safety of the prison and the public. These conditions of torture will not make anyone safer, or prepare men subjected to such dehumanizing conditioning for eventual release.
We stand together against these shameful practices and consider them extensions of the same inhumanity practiced at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. In defense of the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we, the undersigned, call on Governor Jerry Brown to end this torture at Pelican Bay and all California Prisons immediately.
The Right Reverend Joseph Jon Bruno, D.D.
Bishop Diocesan
Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese
Michael Ratner
President Emeritus
Center for Constitutional Rights
Fr. Greg Boyle
Founder - Homeboy Industries, author
Michelle Alexander
Author, The New Jim Crow
Professor of Law, Ohio State
Robert Thurman
Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies
Columbia University
Quinn Delaney
Akonadi Foundation
Angela Davis
Author, Scholar
Distinguished Professor Emerita, UC Santa Cruz
Noam Chomsky
Emeritus Professor MIT, Linguist
Political Critic
Gloria Steinem
Feminist, Journalist
Reverend Jesse L. Jackson
Founder and President
Rainbow PUSH Coalition
Peter Coyote
Georgia Kelly
Founder and Director
Praxis Peace Institute
Earl Katz
Activist/ Executive Producer
President Emeritus, Board Public Interest Pictures
Loïc Wacquant
Professor of Sociology
UC Berkeley
David Fathi
Director, National Prison Project
Rick Goldsmith
Documentary Filmmaker
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Chancellor's Professor
Medical Anthropology
UC Berkeley
Rabbi Michael Lerner
Founder and Editor
Tikkun Magazine
Anthony Arnove
Writer and Producer
Dirty Wars
Megan Comfort
Author Doing Time Together:
Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison
Don Paul
Author, Performer
Producer, Runner
Ruth Wilson Gilmore
Author, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus,
Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California
Mavis and Jay Leno
Activist and Entertainer
Vanita Gupta
Deputy Legal Director
Cornel West
Philosopher, Public Intellectual
Bonnie Raitt
Singer, Songwriter
Cheryl Saban, Ph. D.
Cheryl Saban Self-Worth
Foundation for Women & Girls
Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The Shalom Center
Luis Valdez
Playwright, Actor, Film Director
Cindra and Alan Ladd
Rev. Peter Laarman
Executive Director
Progressive Christians Uniting
Susan L. Smalley, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
Department of Psychiatry
UCLA School of Medicine
Ed Asner
Actor, Activist
Sarah Shourd
Former U.S. Hostage in Iran
Susan Bay and Leonard Nimoy
Activist and Actor
Lawrence Bender
Producer and Activist
Joseph Margulies
Author, Guantanamo
and the Abuse of Presidential Power
Northwestern University School of Law
Mike Farrell
Actor and Activist
Barbara Ransby
Author, Historian
Harriet Beinfeld
Efrem Korngold
Authors, Chinese Medicine
Donald Goldmacher M.D.
Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?
Rick Cluchey
Director andCo-Founder
San Quentin Drama Workshop
Haskell Wexler
Cinematographer, Director
Vincent Warren
Executive Director
Center for Constitutional Rights
Kate Harrison
Kate Harrison Consulting
Walter Parkes
Laurie MacDonald
Doris La Frenais
Philanthropist, Activist
Elliot Currie
Professor, UC Irvine
School of Social Ecology
Daniel `Nane' Alejandrez
Founder and Executive Director
Barrios Unido
Carol Bondi
Advocate Juvenile Justice
Marjorie Cohn
Thomas Jefferson Law School
Dr. Linda Gaither
Episcopal Peace Fellowship
Sandor and Faye Straus
Progressive Activists
James Duff
Writer, Producer, Director
Tom Morello
Musician, RAM
Jill Stoner
Chair, Graduate Program Jewish Studies
UC Berkeley
The Rev Jessie Vedanti
Episcopal Peace Fellowship
The Rev Allison Liles
Episcopal Peace Fellowship
Kevin Wall
Producer, Activist
Karen Bernal
Former Chair, Progressive Caucus
California Democratic Party
Sandra Fluke
Attorney, Social Justice Advocate
David Meggyesy
Board Chair
Athletes for Peace
Lewis Sawyer
Radio Producer, Host
Bill Zimmerman
Political Consulting
Dr. Murray Korngold
Psychologist, Chinese Medicine
William Gazecki
Independent Documentary Filmmaker
Jamie Cromwell
Actor and Activist
Ann Philbin
Hammer Museum UCLA
Jonathan Simon
Professor of Law
UC Berkeley
Join Us and Sign this Open Letter to Governor Jerry Brown by clicking here.

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