Judge damns California's `new Alcatraz'

As America rushes to build new prisons to cater for tough new sentencing laws, a federal judge has issued a damning indictment of one of its show-piece institutions, a maximum-security jail used as a prototype by other states.

Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that Pelican Bay State Prison, a steel-and-concrete fortress in northern California, persistently inflicted "senseless suffering" on inmates, including caging them outside in small cages during cold weather, and holding themin "foetal restraints" - with their wrists and ankles chained together. Two prisoners were shot dead by guards, even though they were not the targets, said the judge.

The case is being seen by US-based human rights and prison monitoring groups as a further reminder of the United States' failure to comply with UN accords on minimum standards for prisoner treatment and an international covenant banning torture. "These are normally simply ignored by the US courts," said Alvin Bronstein, of the American Civil Liberties Union's Prison Project.

They view the level of brutality as particularly alarming, given the rapid increase of the US prison population, which last year rose above the 1m mark for the first time. It is forecast to grow to 2m by 2000, largely because of new "three strikes" laws under which repeat offenders can trigger life sentences.

The US District judge's 345-page ruling, issued in response to a class action suit brought by inmates, paints a horrific picture of conditions in the state-run Pelican Bay, warning that they could cause some inmates to have mental breakdowns. In its "se c urity housing unit", about 1,500 prisoners are held in windowless cells, where some are deprived of all but the barest human contact for several years. The use of sensory deprivation and isolation "may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psych ologically tolerate", said the judge.

Built in 1989 near California's border with Oregon, Pelican Bay has acquired a reputation as a modern-day Alcatraz.However, Californian officials have viewed it with pride, giving tours to officials from other states who have used it as a model.

It was designed to house the worst offenders, although its 3,800 inmates range from murderers and rapists to drunk drivers. The judge gave California's Department of Corrections four months to introduce dramatic improvements and threatened to impose his own plan if nothing is done. David Steuer, representing the inmates, said the judge's ruling proves that the prison violates a ban in the US Constitution against inflicting cruel and unusual punishment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrator

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has a track record...

Recruitment Genius: Solar Field Sales Executive

£40000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: IT Help Desk Support

£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Help Desk Support individ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable