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Pelican Bay inmates’ suit says solitary confinement is torture

May 31, 2012 |  3:41 pm

Pelican

An Oakland-based legal group has filed a suit asking a federal court to declare that solitary confinement practices in a California prison are torture and should be unconstitutional.

The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of inmates who have spent more than 10 years in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit, asking that they be released from the unit.

The unit at Pelican Bay State Prison houses more than 1,000 maximum-security inmates who are suspected of being prison gang leaders, or who have committed crimes while in prison. They are allowed no human contact and are permitted to come out of their cells for no more than 90 minutes a day.

About half the inmates in the unit have been there for at least 10 years, according to the lawsuit. Some inmates, according to the lawsuit, have been there for years based solely on the possession of a few gang drawings.

Nor, say the attorneys, is there a clear process through which inmates may have the alleged gang affiliation reviewed and removed, thus allowing them to leave the unit.

The unit opened in 1989 and some inmates have been housed there ever since.

The suit comes after hunger strikes were staged last fall by thousands of inmates at numerous prisons across the state, protesting the condition in secure housing units at Pelican Bay, and at prisons in Tehachapi and Corcoran.

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-- Sam Quinones

Photo: Guard tower at Pelican Bay. Credit: Associated Press.

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