Lawsuit First to Challenge Use of Solitary Confinement in California’s County Jails
BRIAN CHAVEZ WAS CONSIDERED a model inmate, a “trustee” granted special privileges for his good behavior during the first three years he was in jail. Then, last November, Chavez was moved with no explanation to the jail’s maximum security unit and placed in a 6-by-7-foot cell, where he was often locked up for 47 hours straight.
Chavez is one of two plaintiffs — both inmates in Santa Clara County, California — named in a federal class-action lawsuit filed late last month by the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office against the Sheriff’s Office.
The lawsuit argues that Santa Clara’s sheriff is locking up hundreds of inmates in small filthy jail cells and allowing them out for as few as three hours a week. Inmates held in isolation, the lawsuit argues, are subjected to conditions that “serve no penological purpose.” In addition to having very little out-of-cell time, inmates receive limited visiting time and are completely shackled whenever they leave their cells. They are regularly strip-searched — “sometimes up to six times a day,” the lawsuit alleges — and are denied access to “physical exercise, fresh air, sunlight, normal human contact, meaningful activity, and environmental stimulation.”