Gavin Newsom vetoes bill to end indefinite solitary confinement in California, citing safety concerns

Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday vetoed a bill to limit solitary confinement in California’s jails, jails and private detention centers, dismissing advocates’ hopes of restricting a practice that many experts have said. equated to torture.

In his veto statement on Assembly Bill 2632, Newsom said he supported “limiting the use of solitary confinement” but claimed the measure was too costly.

“Separate confinement is ripe for reform in the United States – and the same is true in California. AB 2632, however, sets overly broad standards and exclusions that could endanger the safety of staff and the incarcerated population in these facilities,” he said.

Newsom said he would ask the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation “to develop regulations that would restrict the use of solitary confinement, except in limited situations, such as those where the individual has been found to engaged in acts of violence in the prison”.

Assemblyman Chris Holden, the Pasadena Democrat who wrote AB 2632, said in a statement that the proposal was an opportunity for California to correct a “dark history” of solitary confinement and ” get it right on this issue”.

“The scientific consensus and international standards are clear. Solitary confinement is torture, and there must be limits and monitoring of this practice,” he said.

Dubbed the California Mandela Act for the late South African civil rights activist who spent decades in prison, AB 2632 would have defined solitary confinement or solitary confinement as the detention of an individual in a cell or similar space , alone or with a cellmate, for more than 17 hours a day and with limited or no access to physical movement and services or in contact with people other than prison staff.

The bill would also have limited confinement to a maximum of 15 consecutive days, or 45 days in a six-month period. People in isolation would still be allowed out of their cells for recreation and meals, as well as treatment and services, as long as there is no significant risk to the safety of other people.

Prison staff should have thoroughly documented each segregation incident, including the reason for segregation, and carried out regular mental health checks and monitoring of the incarcerated person.

The practice would have been banned for vulnerable populations, defined as pregnant or postpartum people, people with certain physical and mental disabilities, and people 25 and under or 60 and over.

Lawyers said the new rules would have ensured that solitary confinement was not abused in California correctional facilities, especially for people with mental illnesses, in a way that thwarts rehabilitation efforts.

Craig Haney, a prominent psychology professor at UC Santa Cruz who has long studied the effects of solitary confinement, said the practice was “traumatic”. Those who have experienced long periods of isolation, Haney said, report high rates of depression, exhaustion and anxiety, nightmares, insomnia and cognitive decline.

“They have memory problems, they have difficulty concentrating, they can’t think as efficiently as before. They forget names, they forget faces, they find their memories are fading. They’re trying to read a book…they can’t,” Haney said. “Sometimes these things pile up and the feeling of hopelessness is so deep that people start hurting themselves and start thinking about killing themselves.

“There’s nothing rehabilitative about putting someone in solitary confinement,” Haney said. “People who have been in solitary confinement for long periods feel lucky to have survived. But they are not rehabilitated by it.

The United Nations’ ‘Nelson Mandela Rules’, a document that sets out standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, prohibits indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement, defined as 22 hours or more a day ‘without significant human contact’ for more than 15 hours. consecutive days.

Separate confinement should only be used in “exceptional cases as a last resort”, according to the rules, and completely prohibited for people with mental and physical disabilities whose conditions would deteriorate in isolation.

It was unclear throughout this year’s legislative session whether AB 2632 had the support to make it to Newsom’s office. Several moderate Democrats abstained from voting on the measure or joined Republicans in opposing it.

Law enforcement groups have expressed serious concerns about the removal of a tool they say prevents violence and keeps facilities safer, and argued that the State Board of Corrections and community was the appropriate agency to set these standards.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has attached a high price tag to AB 2632 with an estimate of more than $1 billion in one-time costs to expand programming space and exercise classes at its facilities, and $200 millions of dollars more per year to increase the personnel needed to comply with the regulations.

Lawyers disputed those numbers, saying they were inflated. Others say the cost is worth it.

Michael Romano, director of the Three Strikes project at Stanford Law School, said California has an “outdated and brutal prison system” that needs change, even if it will be expensive.

“This could require a reconfiguration of the facilities. It might require additional staff,” Romano said. “But these are the things we should and can do to stop torturing people.”

Los Angeles Times

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