Calling solitary confinement "torture," California prisoners and advocates are asking the United Nations to investigate the segregated housing of gang members at prisons throughout the state.
"We have California treating several thousand prisoners in much the same way the U.S. government treats enemy combatants held in Guantanamo," said Peter Schey, an attorney representing hundreds of inmates.
Schey, who announced the petition at a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday alongside prisoners' relatives, said solitary confinement was devastating to the physical and mental health of prisoners and was likely to increase their risk of committing more crimes upon release.
The petition was filed on behalf of about 400 prisoners, including Walter J. Coto at Corcoran State Prison.
"Every single moment I've spent in these torture chambers has chipped away my humanity," Coto wrote.
Schey said he was also considering litigation and a direct petition to Gov. Jerry Brown to end the policy.
About 4,000 inmates are held in the state's "segregated housing units," or SHU. The majority are kept there because they are gang members or suspected gang members. Others have committed violent crimes in prison.