(June 4, 2012) A Thousand Years of Solitude
Imagine spending a month alone in a windowless cell the size of a small bathroom. Now multiply that by 100, and you can begin to understand the average period of solitary confinement endured by prisoners held in the Security House Unit at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison.
The SHU, as the unit is called, houses more than 1,000 men, most of them remaining in solitary confinement for years, even decades.
According to official prison statistics, more than 500 prisoners at the SHU (or about half the total population) have been held there for more than 10 years. What is more, 78 prisoners have been held at the SHU for more than 20 years.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit public interest law firm, filed a class action complaint in federal court last week on behalf of ten named plaintiffs who are incarcerated in the SHU, calling the SHU’s solitary confinement regime “inhumane and debilitating.” The plaintiffs, who had originally filed the case without legal assistance, have each been held in solitary confinement for between 11 and 22 years.