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Pelican Bay Solitary Confinement Case Update
We bring you an update on the Pelican Bay Prison solitary confinement case. As you may recall, Pelican Bay Prison has more than 1,000 prisoners in long-term solitary confinement of 10-20 years or more. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and its lead attorney Jules Lobel have been challenging this practice since 2012. Recently, the state of California, in an effort to blunt the lawsuit, has transferred some of the named plaintiffs to other prisons. Their theory is once we’re rid of the plaintiffs, maybe we’re rid of the lawsuit. CCR and Jules Lobel went out to California to argue that this is not a constitutional practice, that transferring a person from Pelican Bay to another prison in California should not blunt the lawsuit and in fact CCR should be able to challenge solitary confinement in those prisons as well. The judge agreed, and now the CCR case will not just challenge Pelican Bay Prison solitary confinement practices but those in other prisons throughout California.
Attorney Jules Lobel:
Because of three hunger strikes and our litigation, the California prison officials are now instituting reforms. They realize they have to do something.
There are over 1,000 people in solitary. When we started the case, 500 people were there for over 10 years.
Because of the reforms they’ve made under pressure from our litigation, there are now only 230. Still, 230 people for over 10 years is a huge amount.
They’re also moving people out not only to general population prisons, but to other solitary units in other prisons. Other SHUs, it’s called, Special Housing Units.
Four of our ten plaintiffs are moving to another SHU in a place called Tahachapi, and the defendants say, they’re no longer part of your case.
That’s what the argument was about. The argument was about whether or not you can expand the case beyond Pelican Bay.
If you were at Pelican Bay and transferred to another prison, still in solitary, you’re still part of our class.
The judge accepted that we can expand the case, rejecting the state’s argument.
We bifurcated the trial so we could have a relatively quick trial on Pelican Bay. The fundamental question for the Pelican Bay trial is whether keeping people for a prolonged period of time in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay is cruel and unusual punishment.
We also have a claim in that way that they are placed there. It violates due process.
These guys only get reviews every six years. So, you stay in your cell for six years and then after six years somebody comes and reviews whether you should be kept in solitary.
No state in the country has six years. Usually its 30 days, 90 days, six months, maybe at most a year.
California, unlike most states, puts people into solitary simply because they’re suspected to be a member of a gang or associated with a gang.
Guest – Attorney Jules Lobel has litigated important issues regarding the application of international law in the U.S. courts. In the late 1980s, he advised the Nicaraguan government on the development of its first democratic constitution, and has also advised the Burundi government on constitutional law issues. Professor Lobel is editor of a text on civil rights litigation and of a collection of essays on the U.S. Constitution, A Less Than Perfect Union (Monthly Review Press, 1988). He is author of numerous articles on international law, foreign affairs, and the U.S. Constitution in publications including Yale Law Journal, Harvard International Law Journal, Cornell Law Review, and Virginia Law Review. He is a member of the American Society of International Law.
Architects’ Human Rights Code of Ethics Petition
In our coverage of psychologists involved with torture continuing to hold their professional licenses to practice, we look at a similar concern with licensed architects who design prisons, solitary confinement cells and death chambers. Research has show that the design of a prison can influence many aspects of prisoners’ lives including recidivism rates. Recently, the American Institute of Architects rejected a petition to censure members who design solitary confinement cells and death chambers.
In 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture announced that spending more than 15 days in solitary confinement was a human rights violation, that really tipped the scales. We’re aware that people in the United States are routinely held in solitary for years if not decades, and that there are dozens of Supermax prisons that housed thousands of people in those conditions, specially designed for that purpose.
That was really shocking to realize the same tools that architects use everyday trying to make the world a better place for people can be used to torture and kill people.
The question of what constitutes a torture chamber is complicated. There are many buildings that have been used to house prisoners in solitary confinement that were never designed for that purpose.
There are a subset of prisons that are designed for solitary confinement. They’re usually called administrated segregation units.
Supermax prisons are the most egregious. There’s no space for people to eat together. There are no tables with seats clustered around them even.
- The recreation spaces that prisoners have a right to go into for an hour a day are shrunk down to size that they’re for just one person.
- You guys are probably familiar with ADX Prison in Florence, the Federal Supermax which is supposed to be the most secure Supermax in the United States.
- In that facility they actually have showers in every cell. The prisoners then actually don’t even get to go into the hallway.
- The AIA has a code of ethics for members and it already had a statement saying members should uphold human rights in all their professional responsibilities.
- It’s not directly enforceable. If members set out to design a space intended to kill somebody or to torture them or degrade them, which is a human rights violation, AIA is not prepared to take any disciplinary action against someone who does that.
- We were asking them to simply add a rule that clarified that if a member designed a space that is intended for human rights violations, specifically execution and prolonged solitary confinement, that it would be clear they’re in violation of the code of ethics, and then AIA could take disciplinary actions that include censure and expelling them from the institute.
- The National Board of Directors gets to set the ethics code for the whole organization, including all the chapters. They took in our petition. They took in all the letters of support we sent in.
- Then they didn’t communicate with us…they referred it to an internal group. They never let us know who was on that panel. They sent a brief letter back to me, head of the ADPSR, saying that they weren’t going to make the change and they were concerned about potential anti-trust violations and how hard it would to enforce.
- Lastly, they don’t want to restrict their members from designing any particular building type. I just found that to be the worst.
- To me if you’re going to be a professional and take on the responsibility of protecting public health, safety and welfare every time you put your pencil down then there should be limits to what you do with that specialized knowledge.
- To us it’s not a political issue, it’s a human rights issue, and they said they’re an organization that’s for human rights. It didn’t seem right to us that they should pick and choose which human rights they’re okay with and which ones they would restrict.
Guest – Raphael Sperry, president of Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), a 32-year-old independent non-profit organization. He researches the intersection of architecture and planning with human rights, with a special focus on prisons and jails, and advocates for design professionals to play a larger role in supporting human rights in the built environment. He directs ADPSR’s human rights advocacy, including ADPSR’s petition urging the AIA to amend their Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to address buildings that violate human rights. He was the first architect to receive a Soros Justice Fellowship from the Open Society Foundations, hosted jointly by the University of California at Berkeley College of Environmental Design and Berkeley Law School, in 2012. He is an active member of the AIA Academy of Architecture for Justice and a leader of its subcommittee on sustainability. He holds an M.Arch. from the Yale School of Architecture and a BA summa cum laude from Harvard University.