California lawmakers are considering a proposal that would get rid of lengthy solitary confinement practices in prisons and other detention facilities.
The measure, called the California Mandela Act, would end solitary confinement periods “for more than 15 consecutive days” and not allow over 45 days in total over a period of 180 days. The bill would also make it so that a facility cannot put a person in solitary confinement if they are part of a “special population,” which includes certain people who are 25 years old or younger, those who are at least 60 years old, pregnant, recently postpartum, “or has recently suffered a miscarriage or terminated a pregnancy.” The specification also applies to people who have a physical or mental disability.
The bill must be passed by the state Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday for it to continue. A potential drawback of the measure could be its price tag. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reportedly estimated that it would cost the state over $1 billion to follow the law due to the new requirements. However, the proposal’s supporters released a report saying the bill would save the state at least $60 million per year because it would cut down on solitary confinement costs.
“Solitary confinement is torture,” Hamid Yazdan Panah, advocacy director for Immigrant Defense Advocates, which is in favor of the bill, told The New York Times. “If we a long time ago accepted that torture is unacceptable in our jails and prisons, then we really have to take this issue seriously.”
Employees at the facility would also be required to check in on the person in solitary confinement at least twice each hour, and more often if the person appears to be suicidal or “is demonstrating unusual behavior.” Mental health or medical personnel would be required to examine the person every 24 hours, and a mental health professional would also need to examine the person every 48 hours for continuing solitary confinement.
The bill would also change the traditional structure of solitary confinement by requiring the person who is in solitary confinement to be given out-of-cell programming for at least four hours each day, with at least one recreational hour.
Yazdan Panah told the Times that around 4,000 people are in solitary confinement at any period of time, and these new guidelines would bring that amount down by 70%.
“We’re housing individuals in a cell the size of a parking stall, with no real outlet, with no interaction with other people for extended periods of time,” Assemblyman Chris Holden, who introduced the bill, told the Times. “It’s just unacceptable.”