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Lawmakers schedule one-day hearing on solitary confinement

October 07, 2013|By Paige St. John
  • California lawmakers have scheduled a hearing Wednesday on the state's use of solitary confinement. Some 10,000 inmates are in isolation units.
California lawmakers have scheduled a hearing Wednesday on the state's… (Eric Paul Zamora / Fresno…)

SACRAMENTO -- California lawmakers have scheduled a hearing Wednesday into the state's use of solitary confinement in its prisons, legislative action that was promised to encourage inmates to end their 60-day inmate hunger strike this summer over those practices.

"The hunger strike made us look at these conditions, but they have been problematic for years,” Assembly Public Safety Chairman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said in a statement accompanying announcement of the hearing date. "We want to start looking at other ways to deal with the security needs in our prisons in a way that makes sense from a correctional and a human rights standpoint."

Senate Public Safety Chairwoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said she was concerned about the mental health effects of solitary confinement. "Since many of these inmates will eventually complete their sentences and be released into the community, it is in all of our interest to offer rehabilitation while they are incarcerated -- not further deterioration," she said.

Scheduled speakers for the Sacramento hearing include Inspector General Robert Barton, officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and advocates for prisoners and their family members.

The hearing is scheduled for two and a half hours, with public testimony limited to 25 minutes.

More than 30,000 prisoners in July launched the statewide protest over California's use of indefinite isolation to control prison gangs, as well as conditions within the state's solitary confinement units. The core group that continued the fast for 60 days gave it up with the promise of legislative hearings.

An expert for prisoners' lawyers estimate there are more than 10,000 inmates in some form of isolation, including solitary confinement units for mentally ill prisoners. Some of those inmates have been there for decades.

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On Twitter: @paigestjohn

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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