Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill on Thursday that would have restricted the use of indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, a practice that many have compared to torture, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The California Mandela Act would have limited prisons, jails, and private immigration detention centers from holding people in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days. The bill’s title was inspired by Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years for his anti-apartheid activism, and the United Nations standards on the treatment of prisoners. In 2015, the United Nations favored prohibiting any period of isolation for prisoners beyond 15 days, defining it as torture.
In his response to AB 2632, while acknowledging in his veto statement that “segregated confinement is ripe for reform in the United States—and the same holds true in California,” Newsom, however, said the bill “establishes standards that are overly broad and exclusions that could risk the safety of both the staff and incarcerated population within these facilities.”
However, Newsom wrote he would charge the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation “to develop regulations that would restrict the use of segregated confinement except in limited situations, such as where the individual has been found to have engaged in violence in the prison.”
The legislation, introduced by Assemblyman Chris Holden, defined solitary confinement as defined solitary, or segregated, confinement—meaning the holding of an individual in a cell or similar space, either alone or with a cellmate—for more than 17 hours a day and with limited or no access to physical movement and services or contact with those other than corrections staff.
The practice would have become more regulated, with corrections staff being required to document incidents of “segregated confinement,” including a reason for the isolation. Staff would have had to perform mental health check-ins and monitor those in solitary. It also would have been banned for vulnerable people—the pregnant or postpartum, those with certain physical and mental disabilities, and those under 25 and over 60.
“California has a dark history on the issue of solitary confinement, and this bill was our chance to get it right on this issue,” Holden said in a statement. “The scientific consensus and the international standards are clear, solitary confinement is torture and there must be limitations and oversight on the practice.”
The bill was similar to a New York law that went into effect this year. Thirteen other states have limited or banned the practice since 2017.
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