Successful motion in court strengthens California prisoners’ case against solitary

Oakland – Pelican Bay prisoners named as plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the use of solitary confinement in California gained an important victory yesterday as U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of a motion filed by the plaintiffs’ counsel. The motion allows prisoners who have been in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, but have been transferred out of Pelican Bay State Prison since the lawsuit was first filed, to remain eligible as class members in the case.

Our success with this motion should be a strong message to the prison administration that its attempts to evade court review of its unconstitutional practices,” says Carol Strickman, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and staff attorney at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. “Our goal in this case is to support the demand of prisoners to end the inhumane use of indefinite solitary, and no amount of legal shell games is going to stop us from achieving that goal.”

The case was filed in June 2014 on behalf of prisoners held in Pelican Bay’s notorious Security Housing Units (SHU) for more than 10 years. Since then, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has attempted to weaken the case and repress political organizing by transferring prisoners out of Pelican Bay, thereby claiming that they are no longer eligible class members in the lawsuit.

“This is a huge victory against CDCR’s attempts to suppress the resistance and solidarity among prisoners and their loved ones on the outside,” says Dolores Canales of California Families Against Solitary Confinement. “It shows us the power of prisoner-led organizing and efforts on the outside to challenge and block an oppressive prison system.”

The lawsuit against CDCR comes out of a wave of prisoner organizing and of efforts by their loved ones on the outside to bring the prisoners’ demands to the center of public consciousness. The call to end indefinite solitary confinement was one of five core demands of over 30,000 California prisoners who went on a historic hunger strike in July of 2013. Yet CDCR has responded to the prisoners’ action by attempting to break their collective efforts by moving them around the state and pushing forward stricter visitation and mailing policies.

CDCR’s attempt at retribution for political organizing has only galvanized support for prisoners,” continued Canales. “The prisoners’ win in court yesterday means that CDCR’s main strategy of repression – which has been to separate prisoners by transferring them – is not working. We are hopeful and encouraged by this ruling, and will use this momentum to continue fighting for the prisoner’s demands.”

Families, loved ones and advocates of prisoners are continuing to organize to highlight the lawsuit and to amplify the prisoners’ struggles more broadly. The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition and community members across California will be mobilizing on March 23 for a day of “Statewide Coordinated Action to End Solitary Confinement.”

Mohamed Shehk, media and communications director for Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, is a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. He can be reached at 510-444-0484 or mohamed@criticalresistance.org.