Wednesday, September 2, 2015

California inmates win major victory against solitary confinment

By Richard Mellor GED HEO
Afscme Local 444, retired

In California’s prisons there are 2,858 human beings kept in isolation.  Some of these individuals have been in solitary confinement for decades, some for 40 years.  What this means is being confined to a windowless cell for twenty two and a half to twenty four hours a day. Hugo Pinell, a prisoner who was involved in a 1971 escape attempt at San Quentin spent more than 40 years in solitary. He was recently killed in a riot in a Sacramento prison.

As a result of hunger strikes and a suit brought by prisoners at the notorious Pelican Bay prison near the Oregon border, the practice of automatic solitary confinement for supposed gang affiliation will be ended.  The suit was filed by inmates in 2012 when there were 500 inmates in solitary for more than ten years and another 78 for more than 20.

Long-term solitary confinement is clearly enough to drive human beings insane and suicide has been a concern as up to now there was no clear path for getting out. Inmates had no hope other than to die in solitary. The only other alternative would be to become a snitch. It’s much like Palestinians in the occupied territories who are arrested on bogus charges then forced to become snitches to protect their family and loved one’s from Israeli aggression. (see the movie Omar)

This “gang affiliation” rule affected mostly inmates of color.  Three incidents of gang affiliation were enough to send you to solitary for the rest of your life.  But the “incidents” could be for having a drawing in your cell that a guard perceived as a sign of gang affiliation. One example I heard on the radio today was a certain diagram or drawing of part of the Mexican flag that prison authorities determined was a symbol of membership in a gang.

The prison industry is big business in California. We have many entries on this blog about this industry and the conditions in the prisons. The US now has more people incarcerated than any other country in the world but the use of solitary confinement is undoubtedly torture in the most extreme. All human beings have rights.

The other side of this is the definition of a gang. Urban gangs are a product of poverty and despair. This writers knowledge of the culture of them is limited but I would say that belonging to a gang for urban Latino and other youth of color must surely have some connection to national or cultural pride as well.  In the prisons, inmates are generally separated along racial/color lines.  One major aspect of any prison reform should be the building of prisoners unions. This would be one way of weakening the racial and color divide fostered by the authorities.

Gang affiliation in the urban ghettos might also be something one does to protect one’s physical self or to advance the interests of ones group in a particular area, protecting the home turf as it were. There is also peer pressure. Certainly in the prisons, protection is an issue.  

There are many gangs in society but one of the most ruthless, corrupt and violent has almost no members in the prison system and that’s the US Chamber of Commerce.  This group, along with the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Round table and other groups are all affiliated to the national grouping we know as the capitalist class. They met at Jackson Hole recently for their chats and long walks in the mountains.

This gang, the bourgeois gang, has a reach that far exceeds any of the urban working class gangs. It is global, financially well heeled, very well organized and has all the judges and politicians in its pocket.

No comments: