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Lawmakers Take Closer Look at State Prison SHUs

Aired 10/9/13 on KPBS News.

Solitary confinement in California prisons is drawing considerable attention at the state Capitol.

— Solitary confinement in California prisons is drawing considerable attention at the state Capitol. A joint legislative public safety committee hearing Wednesday in Sacramento was intended to gather information on the use of Security Housing Units, or SHU’s in prisons.

Capital Public Radio

A Security Housing Unit cell in Pelican Bay State Prison.

About 4,000 inmates are in the isolated cells. More than half are there because of their alleged connection to gang activity. But Rep. Nancy Skinner questioned the effectiveness of isolating alleged gang members.

“We have a lot of people in SHU but if we’re not having a reduction in gang membership, we have to evaluate whether that’s a useful purpose at all,” Skinner said.

Corrections officials said a new policy calls for reevaluating inmates in the SHU’s based on their personal actions and not just on their gang association.

The hearing comes after a two-month hunger strike this summer that was coordinated by inmates at the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU. At one time the protest involved about 30,000 inmates.

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