California is agreeing to settle a federal lawsuit first filed in 2009 by two inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison who argued that conditions in the security housing unit there are so harsh that they amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Among the changes:
— California will stop isolating inmates indefinitely solely because they are validated gang members or leaders.
— Gang members and nonmembers alike will be sent to segregated housing for up to five years only if they commit serious crimes behind bars.
— Gang members can generally be held in segregation for an additional two years before returning to the general prison population.
— Inmates who refuse to participate in rehabilitation programs or keep breaking prison rules will be sent to a new, less-harsh class of restrictive housing.
— Most inmate gang members who have spent more than 10 years in isolation also will be sent to the new restrictive housing. As of late July, 28 inmates had spent more than two decades in the segregation units and another 34 had been isolated for more than 10 years.
— Segregated inmates will be permitted some telephone calls and may participate in some rehabilitation programs.
— The state will create a new administrative security housing unit for a few inmates who may be held longer than a decade. However, those inmates will have more time out of their cell than other segregated inmates. The unit is to be reserved for inmates who are found to be immediate threats, and their status will be reviewed every six months.
Sources: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Center for Constitutional Rights, court documents