California starts emptying solitary confinement cells

Paige St. John (Los Angeles Times) | January 4, 2012

Even as inmate leaders held in isolation within California’s toughest cell blocks threaten renewed hunger strikes, the state has begun reviewing and moving segregated prisoners into general housing.

As of this week, corrections spokesman Bill Sessa said, 88 inmates had been reviewed under standards adopted in October. Fifty-one of those prisoners were told they will be moved immediately to the general population, where they will be allowed to exercise in outdoor yards, mingle with other prisoners, and enjoy privileges denied them for years while in solitary confinement. Another 25 of those inmates have been moved into the state’s new four-year “step down” program that allows their reentry to the general population only after an extended process.

Sessa said he could not identify the 12 inmates who will remain in segregation, nor where they are being held. California’s core high-security segregation cellbocks are at Pelican Bay State Prison near the Oregon border. Inmates also can still leave segregation by the old way — “debriefing,” the term for providing critical evidence against other prisoners involved in gangs.

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