Advocates speak against solitary confinement in immigration detention centers and prisons

September 22, 2023 /

The California State Assembly passed AB 280, the California Mandela Act, and according to a release from Immigrant Defense Advocates, this is the second year it has gotten support from the California legislature. 

While the state assembly supports AB 280, Governor Newsom still does not fully support the motion to end solitary confinement. The California Mandela Act Campaign (CMC) was launched in January 2023. The campaign is advocating to end solitary confinement for pregnant people, individuals with certain disabilities, as well as individuals under 26 and over 59. 

“Solitary confinement is torture, and it must end. The Governor has repeatedly attempted to undermine or gut the Mandela Act in order to continue to torture thousands of people in California prisons and other detention sites while worsening safety for everyone,” said Hakim Owen, an undergraduate with UC Berkeley Underground Scholars and advocate with CMC in a recent release. “Now the Assembly and Senate have once again passed the Mandela Act. The people have spoken. The vast majority of legislators have spoken. And now, the Governor needs to join his own party on the right side of history. Whenever the legislature sends the bill to his desk, the Governor must sign the Mandela Act into law to stop torture, save lives, and make everyone safer.”

Alex Mensing, the communications manager for California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ) stated solitary confinement is used as a tool of retaliation in immigration detention centers and private prisons. 

While immigration detention is the main focus of CCIJ, solitary confinement is a big part because it impacts people in the centers. Mensing mentioned that when they were advocating against solitary confinement a few years ago, one man who was held in solitary confinement died by suicide.

Mensing stated that now that it has passed that state assembly, they want more time to speak to Newsom to negotiate the terms because he vetoed the bill in 2022. 

“The reason that we’re concerned about the governor’s willingness to sign the bill right now is because one he didn’t sign it last year, and he hasn’t been willing to enter into good faith conversations,” said Mensing. “Also, last year, when he vetoed it, the governor basically said this is an issue that’s ripe for reform. Which we agree with, and we think the AB 280 was the right move for that. However, he said that he was going to instruct CDCR to make reforms to make regulations addressing solitary confinement, and to date, that hasn’t happened.”

In his veto letter, Newsom stated that ending solitary confinement would disrupt the rehabilitation of others and would possibly endanger some. Mensing reiterated that solitary confinement is mainly used for retaliation and that people should not be tortured for safety concerns.

“First of all, CDCR has a process for that, and there’s no reason that somebody needs to be tortured as a way to supposedly keep them safe. Solitary confinement doesn’t actually stop violence. Solitary confinement does not have a record of stopping violence in the CDCR or any other custody,” said Mensing.

Mensing stated the bill does not state that people can not have individual living spaces and there are ways to separate them without putting them in solitary confinement. 

Carlos Sauceda is an advocate against solitary confinement and has also been held in solitary confinement several times between juvenile centers, prisons, county jails, and immigration detention centers. 

“I remember mentally it’s the spending 22 hours inside a cell where you have no human contact whatsoever. On many occasions, you find people feeling hopeless. That’s when the mental stability of a person takes a different level,” said Sauceda. “Then emotionally, you become sad that sadness becomes depression, and in many cases, people try to commit suicide. There’s no other way to call it but torture.” 

 Sauceda said it is torture and a way to dehumanize someone and retaliate when someone protests being in poor conditions.

“They want to put you in solitary confinement and strip you of all your personal belongings. So they take pictures. They take anything that makes you feel human,” said Sauced. “They take it from you, and they leave you in a cell for long periods of time: days, months, even years in some cases where all you have is a pair of boxers and a t-shirt.”

He stated that he used to feel like a hamster just walking around because there was nothing for recreation. Sauceda said it took him years to be able to speak about what happened because of how painful it was. 

One time, he was held in confinement because some of the people around him stopped working. Everyone in that area was moved to solitary confinement even if they were working, which was Sauceda’s case. 

“After three weeks, they came, and they said, ‘Look, just forget about this the officer lied, and we now know that you guys were working,” said Sauceda. “It’s funny how, for them, it’s very easy to seem to say, oh, just forget about it, but it’s you who’s being treated inhumanly. It’s you who has to spend the days, the hours, the months, the years because the officer wanted to lie.”

He stated that it was very painful to be accused of something he didn’t do and placed in solitary confinement. Sauceda said he was able to make it through these times because he knew the truth would come out.

“It’s still happening to thousands and thousands of people. That’s why we continue to fight because it’s not only I who went through this. There are people going through it right now. There are people that’s been going through this type of torture for many, many years, and that’s why we’re against it,” stated Sauceda.

Sauceda said that hearing other people, especially women, talk about their pain after going through solitary confinement and attempts to take their lives, he knew it was time to speak up. 

“These are human beings we’re talking about. They’re family members, they’re community members, and it’s important to speak up against it,” said Sauced. “That’s why I decided to speak up because my experience could save lives, and if I can save one life, then I have to do it. 

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JaNell Gore

Ja'Nell Gore is a student at Cal State Bakersfield. In addition to writing for Kern Sol News she is a poet who loves any chance she has to perform and be with her community.