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Human Rights advocacy group accuses California Department of Corrections of cruelty

The "Secure Housing Unit" at Pelican Bay State Prison.
Julie Small/KPCC

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Imagine being locked in a small windowless room alone for all but 90 minutes a day every day for 20 years.

Such an experience would certainly be dire for most, but is it cruel and unusual punishment for convicted killers?

It is, according to hundreds of prisoners serving sentences at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison who are being represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights in a revised case filed yesterday against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The lawsuit alleges that being confined to the prison’s notorious Security Housing Unit (SHU) where the walls are soundproof, reading materials are highly restricted, and contact visits are nonexistent is in fact cruel and unusual punishment.

The CDCR says the harsh conditions are justified due to the violent nature of those assigned to the SHU. The department has successfully defended itself against similar lawsuits in the past, but many were filed and litigated by inmates without help from lawyers.


How cruel is extended solitary confinement? Can all prisoners be rehabilitated or are some convicted criminals simply too violent to be allowed into a prison’s general population?


Rina Palta, KPCC’s crime and safety reporter

Alexis Agathocleous, attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights

Marilyn McMahon, executive director, California Prison Focus