Bill to Reform Solitary Confinement in State Prisons

A bill by Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) to revise and reform solitary confinement conditions in California’s prisons passed its first legislative hurdle this week.

The Senate Public Safety Committee approved SB 892 by a vote of 6-1, with Republican support. It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee before heading to the Senate floor.

;“Isolating large numbers of inmates for long periods of time as we are currently doing is an expensive and deeply troubling practice that undermines effective rehabilitation and long-term public safety,” Senator Hancock said.

“There are many, many problems with the current solitary confinement system,” Hancock continued. “It is ineffective at controlling gang behavior in prisons; useless in helping to rehabilitate prisoners; costly to taxpayers; and a threat to public safety when inmates are released directly to the streets after years – sometimes decades – of solitary confinement.

The bill will institute specific reforms to the solitary confinement process, including:

Establishing independent, outside oversight by requiring the Office of the Inspector General to review indeterminate solitary confinement detention cases and to conduct regular reviews of each inmate serving an indeterminate SHU term.

Strengthening integrity in the system by requiring CDCR to provide inmates with an advocate throughout the SHU detention process, and creating a new position specifically to assist inmates and their families with issues such as visitation rights and access to support networks.

Prohibiting the placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, and require that every inmate in solitary confinement be evaluated by a mental health professional every 90 days.

Establishing “Exit Roadmaps” by creating individual rehabilitation plans for all SHU inmates, and re-entry plans for inmates who may be paroled directly to the street from solitary confinement.

Establishing more humane conditions in solitary confinement by providing inmates with physical and mental stimulation, including opportunities to interact with other inmates and staff, access to educational programs, and creating an incentive program for inmates to earn privileges such as a monthly phone call, photographs or yard time.

“These reforms are necessary to bring California into the mainstream of modern corrections practice,” Senator Hancock stated. Other states – from Mississippi to Maine – have already significantly reduced the use of solitary confinement. My proposal will strengthen safety, security and stability in the prison system while also creating effective rehabilitation opportunities in a humane environment,” Hancock said.

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