Gov. Brown might not have been paying attention when the people at Pelican Bay went on hunger strike twice in 2011 and once in 2013 for 60 days! The key driver to their indefinite placement in California’s Security Housing Units was the use of confidential information that “validated” them as gang members. Not until the settlement in the Ashker v. Brown case were most of them released to general population. Little did they realize that this so-called information would continue to dictate their fate–in classification, rule violations hearings, risk assessments, and parole decisions.
Every one of us is entitled to our right to due process. But right now, people incarcerated in California prisons are being held in long-term solitary confinement based on fabricated or inaccurately disclosed confidential information.
This year, Sen. Nancy Skinner introduced legislation, SB 1064, to require independent corroboration of any such “information,” more transparency in disclosing when and where incidents occurred, and some due process in challenging the material. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and UnCommon Law were the co-sponsors of the bill. Unfortunately, Gov. Newsom vetoed this legislation, again subjecting people inside to the misuse of unreliable informant testimony. In a time when Americans are waking up to the lack of accountability among law enforcement and the need to provide greater transparency, California cannot afford to continue business as usual within these closed systems.
One former security housing unit person, Paul Redd, described his own experience with confidential “information”: “My 35 plus years spent in the various Security housing units was based on erroneous confidential information: In one case the informant did not exist; in another the staff never documented it nor investigated the information; in 2005 I learned through a court proceeding that that I had been accused of killing an inmate at San Quentin, although I was never charged with that offense. It took six more years, and a new investigation, before they admitted I hadn’t killed anyone and the material was removed from my file. However, that so-called information had cost me years more in solitary confinement. Once I was released to general population, other confidential information kept determining my risk assessment and denying me for parole.” The court released Mr. Redd in late May and he came to work for the AFSC.
“This injustice cannot be corrected by asking the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to review its practices, as suggested in the Governor’s veto message,” said Laura Magnani, Program Director of AFSC’s California Healing Justice Program. “It will take new requirements and legislative oversight, as SB 1064 had attempted to provide. Over 25 groups supported this legislation and we will not give up.”