OAKLAND-California has been forced to reduce the use of indeterminate solitary confinement, a major victory for prisoner rights. With the settlement agreement in the federal class action lawsuit Ashker vs. Brown announced on September 1, 2015, prison administration lost the ability to use the practice that is widely seen as a form of torture.
Mohamed Shehk, press contact for Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition speaks at a press conference outside the court house on the day the settlement was announced., “Any gains that have been made are a direct response of the persistence, of the determination of the prisoners’ struggle and their organizing themselves. This result comes out of the hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013. The important thing to remember is that the struggle is not over, and this is coming from the prisoners themselves saying that they are committed to the struggle in the long term.”
Dolores Gonzales, co founder of California Families Against Solidarity Confinement celebrates this victory as an important first step toward a more humane treatment of people in prison, “The men asked that this be recognized and looked at as an unique historical event to be acknowledged as them unified together, organizing to bring an end to these conditions. Today right here, right now, as we stand in victory with this settlement, that thousands will be released from solitary confinement after decades of isolation.”
The prisoner-led hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013 drew national and international attention to the conditions and treatment faced by prisoners held in Security House Units or SHU, and are believed to be the largest ever hunger strike organized inside a prison with over 30,000 prisoners refusing food.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is lead counsel in the Ashker vs. Brown lawsuit. Ann Weills represented plaintiffs, “I went up there in the middle of the two hunger strikes, met most of the plaintiffs and the reps of the hunger strike who were suffering in solitary, and then they were moved to where they had this ice cold air conditioning blasted into their cells, and they were suffering tremendously. Our clients were the leaders of these hunger strikes and they actually led the litigation. Some of them are brilliant jailhouse lawyers. They led not only the analysis, the strategy, the tactics, and even in the agreement, they will be party to the enforcement of this agreement, so all honor to the Short Quarter Collective of Pelican Bay. We would not be here without them.”
Marie Leven is the sister of one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa who has been in prison thirty-four years and in solitary confinement for thirty-one. She is also with California Families Against Solitary Confinement and reads the statement from the plaintiffs in the settlement:
Statement of plaintiffs on settlement of Ashker v. Governor of California
Dated Aug. 31, 2015
This settlement represents a monumental victory for prisoners and an important step toward our goal of ending solitary confinement in California, and across the country. California’s agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action. This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters.
Our movement rests on a foundation of unity: our Agreement to End Hostilities. It is our hope that this groundbreaking agreement to end the violence between the various ethnic groups in California prisons will inspire not only state prisoners, but also jail detainees, county prisoners and our communities on the street, to oppose ethnic and racial violence. From this foundation, the prisoners’ human rights movement is awakening the conscience of the nation to recognize that we are fellow human beings. As the recent statements of President Obama and of Justice Kennedy illustrate, the nation is turning against solitary confinement. We celebrate this victory while, at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle. We are fully committed to that effort, and invite you to join us.
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa
The Agreement to End Hostilities is an historic document put out by prisoner representatives in Pelican Bay in 2012 calling on all prisoners to build unity and cease hostilities between racial and ethnic groups.
The settlement ends indeterminate long term sentences in solitary confinement, it moves anyone out who has been in SHU 10 yrs or longer, ends use of solidarity confinement based on gang affiliation alone, creates a modified general population for certain prisoners as new alternative to solitary confinement.