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Prevent Prison Abuse

Solitary Confinement. Photo: Vargas Martin / AFSC

California Prison Abuses Could Be Prevented 

Quaker Group Urges Hearings, Legislation, Independent Review

SAN FRANCISCO  (May 10, 2010) - The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is horrified, but sadly not shocked, by the Sacramento Bee report (Sunday, May 9, 2010) of widespread abuses of prisoners in “behavior modification units” in California’s prisons.

AFSC, a Quaker peace and social justice organization, “has been following these issues for over fifty years in California, and unfortunately the kind of humiliation described in the article is far more widespread than people think,” says Laura Magnani, interim regional director in AFSC’s San Francisco office. “People seeing the pictures of prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib (Iraq) were rightfully outraged.  What they don’t realize is that giving people so much power over other people, in systems that are closed to the public, invite such abuses.  What is especially frightening in this story,” Magnani said, “is how long it has been going on and the extent to which the CDCR seems to have covered it up.  I’m particularly worried about the prisoners who are speaking out.”

AFSC is part of a national campaign, STOPMAX, that believes the use of solitary confinement and permanent lockdown prisons should be eliminated, or at least drastically reduced. For more on the campaign, visit, and read their most recent report about long term lock up Buried Alive.

“Humiliation and abuse is a regular part of the landscape in these units.  No one comes out better for the experience,” says Peter Martel, a new staffer for AFSC in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who spent 10 years of his 14-year sentence in solitary. Mr. Martel can be reached at 734.761.8283, ext. 2.

To address the situation in California, AFSC recommends:

  • That the abuses outlined in the article end immediately and those responsible be held accountable.
  • That the Senate Public Safety Committee of the Legislature holds immediate hearings on the conditions and treatment the Bee reported.
  • That legislation be introduced to drastically restrict the use of behavior modification units and other forms of long term isolation and to require due process before anyone is transferred to such a unit.
  • That prisoners have a direct line to an independent auditor or ombudsman, especially those in isolation, so that complaints cannot be intercepted by staff.  Reports prepared by them or by the Inspector General be made public and be acted upon.

 “These units are a problem across the country,” said King Downing, healing justice program analyst for the national AFSC. “Without any court oversight of who gets locked down, we should be curbing the use of isolation based on cost alone. A 2006 NPR report estimated that it costs $50,000 more per year to house a prisoner in long term lockdown,” Downing said.




Laura Magnani   
San Francisco, CA 94103
65 Ninth St.
(415) 565-0201 Ext. 11

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