The union that represents corrections officers at California prisons seeks to intervene in a federal lawsuit over how long the state may keep inmates locked up in solitary confinement.
A group of 10 inmates, each held a decade or longer in isolation at Pelican Bay State Prison near the Oregon border, contend that the practice of indefinite solitude is cruel and inhuman and violates their constitutional rights. A federal judge is hearing their request to turn the case into a class action.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. this week asked the judge to include it as a party in the lawsuit. The guards union contends that decisions on who is put into Pelican Bay's Security Housing Unit, and how long they are kept there are a matter of security that affects the safety of union members throughout the state prison system.
Prisoners argue that the state uses secret evidence to determine who is a member of a prison gang and therefore must be put in isolation, and that long stretches of such confinement cause severe psychological harm. They urge limits on how long prisoners can be kept under such conditions.
That "eviscerates" the process of deciding whether an inmate presents a security threat, the union argues. Limiting isolation "jeopardizes the security of the institution and CCPOA's membership," and would "lead to increased violence throughout prisons in California," the union stated in its federal court filing this week.
The CCPOA represents nearly 27,400 correctional employees.
In protest of solitary confinement conditions, inmate leaders in Pelican Bay's isolation unit are calling for a statewide hunger strike to begin in two weeks. U.S. District Chief Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland is currently requiring settlement negotiations between some of those same Pelican Bay inmates and corrections officials over the solitary confinement lawsuit. Wilken has set an August hearing for the class-action motion.