Updated: Feb 23
For immediate release: February 18, 2022
Contact: Melody Pomraning, Communications Director, Disability Rights California
Hamid Yazdan Panah, Advocacy Director, Immigrant Defense Advocates
Greg Fidell, Policy Manager, Initiate Justice
Advocates Welcome AB 2632 (Holden) ‘California Mandela Act’ Targeting Solitary Confinement in Jails, Prisons and Immigration Detention Facilities
(Sacramento, CA) A coalition of organizations focused on criminal justice, immigration detention and disability rights have come together in solidarity to sponsor AB 2632 (Holden) the California Mandela Act on Solitary Confinement. The legislation builds on growing momentum generated by recent bills passed on solitary confinement in Colorado and New York, and is inspired by the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules, which defines prolonged solitary confinement as torture.
The bill, authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden, is focused on one of the most important human rights issues of our time: solitary confinement. The bill, which defines solitary confinement as any period of confinement that exceeds 17 hours in a cell, mandates that facilities document any instance in which solitary is used, and places limits on the duration any person can be held in this manner. The bill also bans the use of solitary confinement for certain populations including people who are pregnant, have disabilities, or fall within certain age limits.
The use of solitary confinement in jails, prisons and immigration detention facilities has been common practice for decades, with horrific consequences for those detained. While too numerous to list here, some of the most compelling stories include people who have been held in solitary for decades, allegations that a woman held in solitary gave birth alone at the Santa Rita Jail in 2018, and numerous reports demonstrating the link between suicide and solitary confinement.
This harm has only been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, with facilities increasing their use of restrictive lockdowns that deprive individuals of social contact and basic human dignity. Advocates are particularly moved to seek justice for those who have been harmed or lost their lives during solitary confinement. This includes Choung Woong Ahn, a 74-year-old Korean immigrant who was found dead after being placed in solitary confinement at the Mesa Verde Detention facility, used to detain immigrants by the for-profit GEO Group.
Solitary confinement has historically been used as an instrument of violence towards those who are detained, particularly people of color. We must recognize the leadership of detained and formerly incarcerated individuals, and their families who have worked tirelessly on this issue. In 2013, more than 30,000 people organized inside California prisons to protest solitary confinement. They are part of a global movement to challenge the basic assumptions we have around the caging of people in every nation.
Today, the California Mandela Act builds on the decades of work done by detained individuals, activists and organizers to shed light on the darkness that is solitary confinement, and continue to move towards the ultimate goal of liberation for all.
Organizations Sponsoring the California Mandela Act
Immigrant Defense Advocates
Disability Rights California
California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice
Prison Law Office
Quotes from Sponsors:
Hamid Yazdan Panah – Advocacy Director, Immigrant Defense Advocates “While we work for the liberation of our community, we must never allow them to feel alone. The response to solitary must be solidarity with those inside, and a belief that change is possible.”
Adriana Sanchez Ochoa, Deputy Director, NextGen California “No person should be robbed of their basic human dignity no matter their circumstances. This bill takes the first step in ending the torturous practice of solitary confinement for certain protected populations. California must lead the way in reforming a practice no longer in line with the legal, ethical, or moral values of our time”
Bianca Sierra Wolff, Executive Director, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice
“We believe that everyone in California, including immigrants in detention, should be protected from the mental and physical harm inflicted by solitary confinement. With this bill, California is sending a clear message that solitary confinement has no place in our state.”
Greg Fidell – Policy Manager, Initiate Justice
“The long-standing use of solitary confinement in CA jails, prisons, and immigration detention centers is an abject human rights failure. We must bring CA in line with the international community and protect all Californians from the horrors the state continues to inflict with this form of torture.”
Donald Specter, Executive Director, Prison Law Office:
“The use of solitary confinement is widespread in California, despite clear evidence that it is harmful, dehumanizing, and unnecessary. This legislation is critical and overdue. The state must put an end to this cruel and destructive form of punishment.”
Andy Imparato, Executive Director, Disability Rights California:
“This legislation is critical and long overdue. People with disabilities are regularly placed in solitary because of their disability, causing them severe and long-lasting harm. And solitary confinement can have devastating effects on the physical and mental health of nondisabled people, leading to the potential development of new disabilities.”
Quotes from Impacted People
Carlos Murillo Vega – Mr. Murrillo Vega was held in solitary confinement for 14 months at the Imperial Regional Detention Facility, a private for-profit facility used to detain immigrants.
“No one deserves to be locked up alone. It’s one of the worst things that can happen to a person. I know because I have been in those shoes. I want to make sure that what I lived through doesn’t happen to anyone else. This bill is important because it will stop other people from the terrible experience I went through.”
Young Ahn: Mr. Ahn is the brother of Choung Woong Ahn, a 74 year old Korean immigrant who reportedly took his own life after being placed in solitary confinement.
“In May 2020, my brother died in solitary confinement. We have never gotten answers about why he was in solitary, even though he was elderly and sick, or why no one was watching him when he died. We have suffered so much, and want to make sure no family goes through this again.”
Ricardo Villa: Mr. Villa has been subjected to solitary confinement in the Sacramento County Jail for repeated and prolonged periods of time over the past three years.
“Being incarcerated under the best of circumstances is a struggle for your sanity and humanity, but to be placed in solitary confinement is physical and psychological torture intended to kill the spirit. California must put an end to this dangerous and damaging practice.”
Graham Finochio, Formerly Incarcerated Community Organizer with Initiate Justice:
“Solitary confinement is a draconian weapon that was used against me while I was incarcerated with the sole purpose of destroying my spirit in the false name of safety and security. I was isolated and traumatized by the prison system and this abuse was called ‘rehabilitation’. I urge the Legislature to pass this much-needed & long overdue legislation.”
Michael Brodheim, Formerly Incarcerated Person, Now Working at the Prison Law Office: “Between the noise and the solitude, I quickly became helpless, desperate, and psychotic during my stay in solitary confinement at San Quentin. Our willingness to subject people to such barbarous conditions says something awful about us as a society. The Legislature should act now to end this cruel practice.”