The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez [official profile] on Friday urged [news release] the US government to ban the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement. In several California prisons, hunger strikes began on July 8, with more than 30,000 inmates refusing food to protest the allegedly cruel use of solitary confinement as punishment within the state's system. Mendez asserted that prolonged solitary confinement is a cruel, inhumane method of punishment stating, "[e]ven if solitary confinement is applied for short periods of time, it often causes mental and physical suffering or humiliation, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and if the resulting pain or sufferings are severe, solitary confinement even amounts to torture." Mendez also urged the US government to ban the use of solitary confinement in other situations, including for juveniles, persons with psychosocial disabilities, pregnant women, those serving a life sentence and prisoners on death row. Additionally, Mendez stressed that it is not acceptable to use threats of forced feeding against individuals undergoing the hunger strike.
California's prison system has been under scrutiny since 2006, when the state's governor proclaimed a prison overcrowding state of emergency [text]. In August, the US Supreme Court [official website] refused to stay an injunction [JURIST report] that would have allowed for the early release of nearly 10,000 California inmates by the end of the year. In July, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called on [JURIST report] California to end conditions for prisoners in solitary confinement and order an impartial investigation into the recent death of a prisoner who had been in solitary confinement for five years. In May, Governor Jerry Brown [official website] and various state prison officials filed a notice of appeal [JURIST report] to the US Supreme Court [official website] after a panel of federal judges in April refused to vacate or modify their 2010 order [text, PDF] for reduction of the California inmate population. In January of this year, Brown issued a proclamation [text, PDF], in order to effectively terminate the 2006 state of emergency.