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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory