California Gov. Gavin Newsom has an opportunity to sign a bill into law that would end solitary confinement in all of the state’s lockups for pregnant women, for persons with recognized disabilities, and for those younger than 25 or older than 59.
AB 2632, also known as The California Mandela Act, is authored by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena). The bill would prohibit keeping people in near-all-day isolations or solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days.
“Solitary confinement is cruel and a racial justice issue that does nothing for the rehabilitation of a person … Not only is it deemed as cruel and unusual punishment by the United Nations, but it deeply damages the psyche of a person,” Holden told The Sacramento Bee on July 31.
Several other states have already limited the use of solitary confinement. In 2017, Colorado ended the use of long-term isolation in its prisons. Since then, 13 other states have limited or banned the practice.
If AB 2632 becomes law, its restrictions on solitary confinement would extend not only to California’s prisons and jails but, for the first time, to private immigration detention facilities.
Research has shown that solitary confinement is correlated with declining mental health and increases in prison violence, recidivism, and rates of death following release from incarceration.
Kevin McCarthy spent more than a decade in isolation. “Solitary confinement is torture,” McCarthy wrote in an editorial published July 31 in the San Francisco Chronicle.
“My first experience in solitary confinement took place in the California Youth Authority when I was 16 years old,” said McCarthy. “I was sent there because I had been caught with drugs. I needed treatment for addiction and counseling rather than solitary confinement,” said McCarthy.
Prison officials say that solitary confinement is necessary for the safety and security of institutions.
Cory Salzillo, legislative director for the California State Sheriffs’ Association, told The Bee that the bill’s mandates are “concerning” and said its definition of special populations is “broad.”
“It’s got potential implications for the safety of incarcerated persons as well as staff within the facilities,” Salzillo said in the article.
But McCarthy calls being in isolation “crushing and unbearable.”
He described deprivation of “any sensory experience” and “the lack of human contact” as debilitating.
“I would often become so desperate to break that silence that I would ask myself questions and answer them out loud as if I was interviewing myself,” McCarthy said.
He added, “I would have preferred a physical beating to being held in isolation. Bruises and cuts heal, but the wounds in my mind and soul are so deep that I do not believe I will ever fully recover.”