Sacramento, California – Opponents of solitary confinement said late this week it’s “disappointing” California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the “Mandela Act,” a measure that would prevent “the torture of Black and Brown people in jails, prisons and immigration detention facilities.”
AB 2632, the California Mandela Act on Solitary Confinement authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), would have placed “comprehensive limits on the use of solitary confinement in jails and prisons, and is the first bill in the nation to also cover private immigration detention facilities.
The legislation would have banned the use of solitary confinement against pregnant people, individuals with certain disabilities, as well as individuals under 26 and over 59, said advocates, defining “solitary confinement” as holding a person in a cell with severe restrictions on physical movement and minimal or zero contact with people for more than 17 hours a day.
“This bill would have sent a clear message that California will not allow the torture of black and brown people in its jails, prisons and immigration detention facilities,” said Jackie Gonzalez, Policy Director with Immigrant Defense Advocates.
Gonzalez, adding “It is disappointing that the Governor chose to block this goal, and ignore the will of the legislature and the people of California,” said the measure received broad support in the legislature and public.
“California has a dark history on the issue of solitary confinement, and this bill was our chance to get it right on this issue,” said Holden in a statement. “The scientific consensus and the international standards are clear, solitary confinement is torture and there must be limitations and oversight on the practice.”
Newsom, in his veto message, said he was “sympathetic to the bill’s intent, and promised to direct the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to “develop regulations that would restrict the use of segregated confinement except in limited situations, such as where the individual has been found to have engaged in violence in the prison.”
However, advocates of the bill said the “regulatory framework proposed by Governor Newsom in his veto message does not address the need for change in our jails and private immigration detention facilities, nor will it address the broad change that needs to take place on this issue.”
Newsom said he vetoed the legislation because it was “overly broad,” claiming it lacked exceptions for officials to use solitary confinement in circumstances when segregated housing could “protect the safety of all incarcerated individuals in the institution.”
But those who have endured solitary confinement disagreed.
“I spent more than a decade in solitary confinement and I still carry the scars on my soul. During that time I saw many people attempt to take their own life because of how horrific the experience was. Nothing can restore the pain inflicted upon those who have experienced this torture, but this bill would prevent future generations from experiencing this harm, and serve as a model for other states to follow,” said Kevin McCarthy, a solitary survivor and undergraduate with UC Berkeley Underground Scholars.
Advocates estimate more than 50,000 people are in solitary confinement in the U.S. – besides CA, other states have introduced legislation seeking to limit the practice.