Pelican Bay prisoners sue to end 'torture' of long-term solitary confinement

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The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of inmates at Pelican Bay, a federal prison in California. The lawsuit charges that the 23.5 hours per day they prisoners are forced to serve  solitary confinement amounts to torture. More than 500 hundred prisoners have been held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, with 87 of those inmates spending 20 years in isolation.

The suit claims that the length of solitary meets the UN’s standard for torture, and is thereby a violation of prisoners’ constitutional rights. In a speech at the UN, a representative for inmates at pelican Bay called for a ban on the use of solitary confinement as a form of punishment.

The prolonged use of solitary confinement at a high-security prison in California “strips prisoners of their basic humanity” and amounts to illegal torture, a human rights group charged in a federal lawsuit filed on Thursday.

The suit, filed on behalf of prisoners by the Center for Constitutional Rights in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., calls for an end to prolonged solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California. Hundreds of inmates held in the prison’s “security housing unit” spend 22.5 hours a day in total isolation, leaving their cells for just roughly 90 minutes a day to exercise, alone, in a small concrete enclosure.

“We as a society should not be sanctioning torture,” said Jules Lobel, the center’s president. “We as a society should not be sanctioning barbarity.”

More than 500 prisoners have been held more than a decade in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, according to statistics cited in the lawsuit, with 87 serving 20 years or more in isolation. Inmates in the security housing unit cannot make or receive phone calls and their visitation rights are extremely limited.

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