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Security Housing Units, Extreme Isolation at Heart of Inmate Hunger Strike, is Subject of Hearing

| August 23, 2011
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Corrections officials told state lawmakers today they’re committed to changing the state’s controversial use of isolation units at four prisons, including Pelican Bay.

At an Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing, Michael Montgomery reports, legislators pressed prison officials on three main issues: how an inmate is put inside an isolation unit, how long they stay there and how they can get out. (The California Channel webcast the hearing live; check back here for an archive.)

Earlier today on The California Report, Montgomery delved into the issue of these prison quarters, called Security Housing Units (SHUs), where state prisoners are held in extreme isolation because of their affiliation with prison gangs — affiliation, at least, according to prison authorities.

Photo: Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

The criteria for sending inmates into such prisons within a prison, as well as the conditions under which they are housed, were at the heart of last month’s prisoner hunger strike, which at its peak was participated in by hundreds of inmates in at least four prisons.

Inmates ended the strike when the Department of Corrections agreed to review SHU procedures and conditions, and granted some smaller concessions, such as providing more TV channels and art supplies, allowing different types of clothing, and allowing prisoners to receive one photo per year.

A previous review of SHUs resulted in few if any changes, but Michael Montgomery has reported that corrections officials are moving ahead this time — amid threats of another hunger strike by inmates who spearheaded the action at Pelican Bay — with reforms recommended in 2007 by a panel of experts appointed by the corrections department.

Listen to or read the latest report on the Security Housing Units issue:

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