The California Senate passed AB 2632, or the California Mandela Act on Solitary Confinement, Tuesday. If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the bill would limit the use of solitary confinement in the state.
AB 2632 was introduced by Assemblymember Chris Holden, whose office worked in conjunction with different organizations, including the Berkeley Underground Scholars — an academic support organization for formerly incarcerated students that is building a prison-to-school pipeline.
Kevin McCarthy, a campus senior and member of the UC Berkeley Underground Scholars program, served as the bill’s subject matter expert.
“Solitary confinement is an attack upon one’s psyche and soul,” McCarthy said. “If a guard were to physically attack someone in their cell, that would be a crime, so why isn’t this, a psychological and emotional attack, prohibited as well?”
AB 2632 advocates for ending prolonged solitary confinement and bans it for vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, people with disabilities and inmates under the age of 25, according to McCarthy.
Newsom’s office declined to comment on pending legislation.
McCarthy also said the bill restricts solitary confinement to 15 days, noting that the United Nations finds 15 days is the maximum limit one can stay in confinement without suffering mental damage.
“It builds on the decades of work done by detained individuals, activists and organizers to shed light on the darkness that is solitary confinement and allows for constructive alternatives,” Holden said in an email.
In collaboration with Immigrant Defense Advocates, McCarthy conducted a cost analysis report showing a reduction in solitary confinement would lead to savings for California because security housing units require more staff than other units.
McCarthy said inmates can be put in solitary confinement for “innocuous reasons,” explaining how he was in solitary confinement for a nonviolent offense.
He alleged that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR, receives approximately $20,000 more per person in solitary confinement than they do from other inmates.
“They treated us like we were marketable commodities,” McCarthy said. “The CDCR has an economic incentive to place and retain as many people in solitary confinement as possible.”
In addition to creating a pathway for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people into higher education, the Underground Scholars Program has a yearlong policy fellowship that trains students on legislative advocacy and how to pass bills, according to Azadeh Zohrabi, the Underground Scholars Program executive director.
While the fellowship prioritizes formerly incarcerated students, McCarthy and Zohrabi said those who want to support AB 2632 can do so by urging Newsom to sign the bill into law.
“The international community has made it very clear that solitary confinement is torture,” Holden said in the email. “This bill promotes accountability, safety and human decency and I hope others will see that too.”