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Criminal Justice

Newsom Vetoes Bill Limiting Use Of Solitary Confinement In California

A hand holds a telephone receiver through a narrow slot in a door.
An immigrant makes a call from his 'segregation cell' at the Adelanto Detention Facility in 2013. A bill vetoed by Gov. Newsom would have limited use of solitary confinement.
(John Moore
Getty Images)
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Assembly Bill 2632 from Democratic Assemblymember Chris Holden of Pasadena would have overhauled how California prisons treat incarcerated in solitary confinement.

Newsom vetoed the bill on Sept. 29, but directed the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop regulations to restrict the use of such confinement to “limited situations, such as where the individual has been found to have engaged in violence in the prison.”

In his veto message, he 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.”

What It Would Have Done

Under the bill, a person would no longer be held in solitary for longer than 15 consecutive days, or 45 days in a 180-day period. The bill would also prohibit the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from putting certain groups in solitary confinement, including inmates younger than 26 or older than 59, pregnant people or those with mental or physical disabilities.

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Who Supported it

Civil liberties groups, immigration advocates and a constellation of criminal justice reform groups, including the California Public Defenders Association. A federal judge has ruled that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has systematically violated the due process rights of inmates, and continues to ignorea 2015 settlement between the state and two Pelican Bay State Prison inmates held in solitary confinement for decades based on their perceived gang affiliations.

Who Opposed It

The people operating prisons and the Security Housing Units within them. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association wrote in a letter of opposition that forcing violent inmates back into the general prison population will lead to more violence, both to inmates and prison guards. “Inmates who have attempted, or succeeded in, murdering their cellmates would be let right back into the population they pose a risk to.”

Why It Matters

Solitary confinement is the Wild West of carceral regulations — there aren’t many rules in place, so prisons set many of their own. Horror stories abound from California and elsewhere of people kept for years in solitary confinement, getting perhaps two hours of time outside their cell a day with little contact with the outside world. The bill would also extend its regulations to private California prisons that house federal inmates or immigration detainees.

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Updated September 30, 2022 at 8:16 AM PDT
This modifies information originally provided in an overview of legislation on Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk.