Governor Brown has been attempting to thwart Federal Court orders to reduce California's prison population for, well, as long as he's been Governor in his elder incarnation. He has done everything from effectively defying the US Supreme Court's decision in Brown v Plata to un-declaring an emergency so he could claim he "no longer had the power" to do anything about prison overcrowding.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals special three judge Federal panel just called bullshit on his latest attempt to evade the Court's most recent order by denying a stay of that order pending appeal to the US Supreme Court.
After this long history of defendants' noncompliance, this Court cannot in good conscience grant a stay that would allow defendants to both not satisfy the Population Reduction Order and relitigate the Supreme Court's emphatic decision in the very case before us.The court panel would not seem to be favorable to authoritarians attempting to impose their own will in defiance of constitutional rights. One of its members is Judge Stephen Rheinhart - who penned the majority decision in the Ninth Circuit's ruling on Proposition 8. Another is Judge Thelton Henderson - currently overseeing Oakland's compliance with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement regarding Oakland's Police, not to mention being the judge who ruled that California's prison medical system was unconsitutional and earlier, in Madrid v Gomez, ordered reforms in use of force against prisoners in solitary confinement in California.
In Madrid v. Gomez... Judge Thelton Henderson recorded myriad staff abuses of prisoners at the institution. The most memorable: Vaughn Dortch, a mentally ill African-American prisoner, whom guards forced to take a "bath" in near-boiling water. One guard said, as he was holding Dortch down in the water: "Looks like we're going to have a white boy before this is through." ... Judge Henderson ordered numerous reforms to the policies and practices at the institution... However, Henderson stopped short of declaring the physical structure of long-term solitary confinement unconstitutional.In its response to the stay request the court made no pretense of being polite to the Governor and his minions ("the defendants"):
We left this question to defendants but ordered them to submit a plan for compliance within 45 days...Defendants did not comply...
Defendants' response did not comply with our April 10 Order, as they did not provide a Plan that would reach the 137.5% population benchmark by December 31, 2013.
In defense of their actions, defendants equivocate regarding the facts and the law.
We carefully explained our reason for choosing this particular measure... we rejected defendants' arguments against expanding the good time credits measure... we noted the success other jurisdictions experienced in safely expanding their good time credits programs... this Court offered defendants three methods of making substitutions to the measures in the Amended Plan...And so it continues. I have no idea when, or what, the Supreme Court will do when California's appeal for a stay is filed. I can only hope that SCOTUS simply and quickly sends back a note like this:
Despite our repeated efforts to assist defendants to comply with our Population Reduction Order, they have consistently engaged in conduct designed to frustrate those efforts. They have continually sought to delay implementation of the Order... They have refused to follow the Supreme Court's order... Governor Brown declared, notwithstanding the orders of this Court, that the crisis in the prisons was resolved.
But if Jerry Brown thinks his biggest problem right now with California's prison system is
the Ninth Circuit a panel of Federal judges, he's about to be dismayed... very dismayed. His utter refusal to adopt prison reforms in any way, shape or form is about to open a can of whoopass that may well send shockwaves from Guantanamo through Sacramento all the way to The Gulag Archipelago.
All eyes are on Pelican Bay SHU, the shame of California, where men who have been locked in concrete coffins for decades have called for a hunger strike and work stoppage to begin Monday, July 8, to last until their Five Core Demands are met. Pelican Bay is, among the world's prisons, one of the worst of the worst; it's the prison where Black prisoner Vaughn Dortch, 29, was boiled alive until his skin fell down around his ankles...
About 10,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in California at any one time. Some have been in solitary for up to 40 years, and the average time is seven and a half years...
There were two hunger strikes in 2011: The first involved 6,600 prisoners; the second 11,898 prisoners. Now prisoners are set for a repeat strike with July 8 as the target date.
There are forty hunger strikers at Guantanamo. Imagine hundreds, or thousands, in California. In the previous hunger strikes, government officials were able to get the prisoners to call them off using bogus promises of reform. Presumably no one is going to be fooled by this tactic again.
I am told by solidarity organizers that many in solitary have come to the end - that they are willing to die in their pursuit of humane treatment. Will Brown order force-feeding?
I have now heard mention that there will be sympathy strikes among prisoners in other California prisons. There is this article suggesting a sympathy strike in Washington State, and even rumors of actions around the world.
Like most nasty things having to do with crime and punishment in the US, we are uniquely bad amongst industrialized countries in the extensive and pervasive use of solitary confinement, a practice described as torture by at least one UN official.
As Shaun Bauer, one of the three US hikers captured by Iran and kept for four months in solitary, penned:
Solitary confinement is living death. Death because it is the removal of nearly everything that characterizes humanness, living because within it you are still you. The lights don't turn out as in real death. Time isn't erased as in sleep.Don't believe it's only "the worst of the worst" that get put into solitary. Children as young as thirteen are being confined. The mentally ill are sometimes also so confined. Prisoners who have the wrong books, tattoos, associates or beliefs are put into solitary "just because", without any kind of adjudication or appeal.
You can find out more about the hunger strike and efforts being made at solidarity for and support of the hunger strikers from my previous diary, Some Dare Call It Torture.
There is a support rally planned for July 13th at Corcoran State Prison, one of the three California prison facilities that has solitary confinement (SHU) cells (the others are Pelican Bay and Tehachapi).
It's time to end such treatment of any human being. Maybe this strike will be the beginning of that end.