Update on the California Prisoner Human Rights Movement to End Indefinite Solitary Confinement, Ashker v. Governor of California Settlement

The Ashker v. Governor of California federal class action lawsuit is before Judge Claudia Wilken in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

  1. Acronyms;

2.    Court Finds Systemic Constitutional Violations by California Department of Corrections: Extends Settlement to End Indefinite Solitary Confinement in California, January 28, 2019;

  • Legal update on the Ashker v. Governor of California settlement, December 7, 2018;

4.    “Pelican Bay Prisoners’ Statement on 3rd Anniversary of Settlement,” October 15, 2018;

5.  Read more about this lawsuit on these websites.

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Acronyms

CDCR=California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

GP= General Population (in prison)

SHU=Security Housing Unit (one type of solitary confinement)

SNY= Sensitive Needs Yard

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COURT FINDS SYSTEMIC CONSTITUTIONAL VIOLATIONS BY CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

Extends Settlement to End Indefinite Solitary Confinement in California

Contact: press@ccrjustice.org

January 28, 2019, Eureka – Late Friday, a federal judge found that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is systemically violating the due process rights of prisoners. The judge ruled that CDCR is violating the Constitution by repeatedly relying on unreliable and even fabricated confidential information to send California prisoners to solitary confinement. The court also found CDCR is using constitutionally flawed gang validations to deny people in prison a fair opportunity for parole.  

As a result of evidence submitted by the prisoners’ legal team, the judge extended by one year the terms of an historic settlement agreement to end indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, including a provision allowing monitoring by plaintiffs’ counsel.

“The purpose of the settlement was to eradicate constitutional violations related to CDCR’s use of solitary confinement. Unfortunately, California is still violating our clients’ fundamental rights to due process. This ruling is an opportunity to remedy those continuing violations,” said Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights Rachel Meeropol. “It also sends a clear message to CDCR and California’s new governor: until the constitutional violations end, the courts will be watching.”

Under a 2015 landmark agreement, nearly 1600 prisoners were released from isolated Security Housing Units (SHU) and CDCR agreed to substantially reform the process by which prisoners were placed and held in the SHU. Prisoners are no longer sent to SHU based solely on gang affiliation—often established on the basis of extremely insubstantial evidence—but only due to specific and serious rules violations.

The judge’s decision underscored the serious problems in California’s old gang validation system and the way it continues to impact prisoners:

“Plaintiffs have provided the court with ample evidentiary examples that demonstrate that the CDCR’s old process for gang validation was constitutionally infirm (for example, because CDCR’s interpretation of the word ‘activity’ also included something described as, ‘non-action piece[s] of evidence’). As a result, prisoners’ validations were sometimes based on as little as . . . having received correspondence (regardless of the content) or artwork, a birthday card, or other possessions from a validated gang member… or for the artwork they possessed (such as art containing Aztec or Mayan images)… Plaintiffs also provide evidence from a number of class members’ parole transcripts in support of the contention that gang validation is a highly significant, if not often a dispositive factor in parole consideration, and that when prisoners dispute their validation at their parole hearings, Commissioners consider the challenge itself to constitute evidence of dishonesty and a manifestation of a lack of remorse or credibility.”

“Now that a judge has determined that California’s gang validation system is deeply flawed, the Parole Board must immediately stop relying on these old validations and give our clients a fair chance to earn release,” said Carol Strickman of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

The judge’s decision also focused on how California distorts confidential information, describing one disciplinary case where “the potentially exculpatory part of the [confidential informant’s] account was never disclosed, and instead it appears to have been replaced by an inculpating statement that the [confidential informant] never uttered;” another case where a “prisoner was told that the evidence against him included two confidential sources… however, according to the underlying confidential memorandum, there were not two sources, there was only one, and that person stated that he did not witness the event in question;” and many more, leading the judge to conclude that “time and again, the shield of confidentiality for informants and their confidential accounts is used to effectively deny class members any meaningful opportunity to participate in their disciplinary hearings.”

Lead counsel at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jules Lobel, explained, “CDCR relies extensively on confidential in-custody informants, even though the California legislature and experts around the country recognize they are often unreliable. We hope this decision will provide momentum for California and other state prison systems to take steps to ensure that this type of unreliable evidence is not used to send people in prison to solitary confinement. 

Ashker v. Governor of California was originally filed by prisoners who had been isolated in the SHU for more than a decade based on alleged gang affiliation. The lawsuit followed coordinated hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 by over 30,000 prisoners statewide. On the third anniversary of the settlement agreement, former SHU prisoners published a statement marking their progress and highlighting work that remains in order to fully remedy their unconstitutional conditions.

The Ashker plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Bremer Law GroupPLLC, Ellenberg & Hull, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone.

Read the magistrate judge’s decision here. For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, The Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.

https://ccrjustice.org/home/press-center/press-releases/court-finds-systemic-constitutional-violations-california

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Legal update on recent court orders in the Ashker v. Governor of California lawsuit, from Carol Strickman, one of the attorneys for prisoner plaintiffs:

On Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, Judge Wilken issued three “court rulings on enforcement motions” on two settlement violations she had earlier identified.

On the “Level IV” issue — that many class members released to GP are not receiving adequate out-of-cell time — she ordered that they be provided with such time “that is meaningfully greater than” SHU.  She granted one year of monitoring on this issue, with various provisions such as documentation, meetings, appointment of expert, etc. (General Pop Remedial Order)

On the “walk-alone” issue — that these specific RCGP (Restricted Custody General Population) prisoners are not receiving adequate social contact, she ordered that CDCR “make every effort to allow all RCGP prisoners to exercise and participate in leisure time activity in a group, including efforts to create smaller groups including groups of two, if necessary.” She again granted one year of monitoring, with various provisions.  (Walk Alone Remedial Order)

Each of the above orders is 3 pages.  

The third order is 12 pages. The third order adopts the remedial plans but also grants a stay of their enforcement, pending the appeal to the Ninth Circuit filed by CDCR. This document is basically a procedural history of this part of the litigation. (General Remedial Order)

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Pelican Bay Prisoners’ Statement on 3rd Anniversary of [Ashker v. California Governor] Settlement

October 15, 2018

Sunday marked the third anniversary of the landmark settlement agreement in Ashker v. California, the class action lawsuit that ended indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons. We have accomplished a lot in that time. Over 1600 prisoners who were looking at spending the rest of their lives in isolation have been released from Security Housing Units. Living conditions have improved for many prisoners. And prisoners who were prevented from seeking parole because they were isolated in SHU have some prospect for release.

Most importantly, prisoners have continued to honor the historic 2012 Agreement to End Hostilities, working to resolve issues peacefully and prevent individual conflict from escalating into group conflict. Through this, we have dramatically reduced violence throughout California prisons and been able to harness our collective power to unite against our true opponent: a prison system that would rather punish and torture than rehabilitate.

However, much work remains. While prisoner culture has changed, CDCR culture has not. The California prison system continues to obstruct meaningful reforms, to attempt to provoke violence by a variety of tactics such as integrating SNY informants into the GP, and to entrap individual prisoners. It continues to violate our due process rights and resist systemic change.

Many prisoners released from SHU have been transferred into Level 4 prisons, which are essentially modified SHUs. While called “general population,” prisoners in these units often receive as little out-of-cell time as they did in the SHU, are denied jobs, and have little to no vocational and other programming. To honor the settlement, we need to live in true general population housing units that provide adequate social interaction, outdoor time, programming, work opportunities, and preparation for release.

Additionally, CDCR has done nothing to help us deal with the aftermath of years, and even decades, in solitary confinement. As the report by the Stanford University Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Lab documents, the torture of solitary confinement does not end when the cell doors open. Many of us are still suffering terribly. Some of us have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We can never get back the relationships with parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, spouses, kids, and other loved ones damaged by our years in isolation. We need rehabilitation and reparations. To begin to make us whole, CDCR must help us heal.

Finally, CDCR continues to throw people back in the hole. It is relying on confidential information regardless of whether the informant is credible or reliable. It even fabricates information and falsifies documents. Prisoners continue to be denied fair hearings, and then are thrown back into solitary. This behavior is systemic throughout CDCR, from top to bottom. To honor the settlement agreement, we need independent oversight of CDCR’s disciplinary system and individual accountability for CDCR employees who abuse their power.

In a recent ruling, Judge Claudia Wilken has recognized that the settlement requires that reforms be meaningful, including that CDCR cannot simply shuffle people to “general population” units that function like SHUs. And we are requesting an extension of the period of monitoring to ensure that CDCR complies with the spirit and purpose of the settlement.

Finally, we must continue to stick together, to honor the Agreement to End Hostilities, and to fight our true opponent: CDCR’s abuses. Our accomplishments thus far have come about because of our collective power. Collective power is how we will achieve the goals ahead of us.

Posted on October 15, 2018 by prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity

(Reposted from the Center for Constitutional Rights)

Link to original post: https://ccrjustice.org/home/blog/2018/10/15/pelican-bay-prisoners-statement-3rd-anniversary-settlement

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Read more about this lawsuit on these websites:

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)

https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/our-cases/ashker-v-brown
https://ccrjustice.org/home/press-center/press-releases/landmark-agreement-ends-indeterminate-long-term-solitary

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC)

Solitary Confinement: Ashker v. Governorhttps://www.prisonerswithchildren.org/legal-support-center/litigation/

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