California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill Thursday that would have reformed solitary confinement within California prisons.
The California Mandela Act on Solitary Confinement, or AB 2632, would have banned the usage of solitary confinement on incarcerated people with disabilities, pregnant people and those under 26 or over 59 years old.
The bill also would have limited solitary confinement to 15 consecutive days, or 45 days total in any 180-day period.
“This bill was the light that many looked to from the dark and hopeless place of solitary confinement,” said Assemblymember Chris Holden, who authored the bill, in a statement. “It would have sent the clear message that California will not allow the torture of people in its jails, prisons, and immigration detention facilities.”
Newsom said in a statement that he vetoed the bill because its criteria were “overly broad,” and its exclusions could risk the safety of incarcerated people and prison staff.
Newsom noted the bill could interrupt rehabilitation efforts and would prohibit the placement of incarcerated individuals in solitary confinement for the safety of others in the facility.
Kevin McCarthy, a program coordinator for Berkeley Underground Scholars, said that news of the veto disappointed him given his efforts as an advocate for solitary confinement reform. McCarthy noted he was an expert witness on the bill at public safety hearings in the California State Assembly.
McCarthy, who is also a UC Berkeley senior, said he spent 12 of his 22 years in prison in solitary confinement, with two of those years spent as a minor.
“Most people I know who were in solitary have severe problems now,” McCarthy said. “They didn’t adjust very well after that experience. They have substance abuse issues, and many suffer from PTSD and insomnia. I still have nightmares to this day that I’m back in solitary, and I feel like I can’t breathe. It’s awful.”
While Newsom rejected AB 2632, he has directed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR, to restrict the use of solitary confinement except in limited situations, such as isolating individuals engaging in violent behavior.
However, McCarthy said he is skeptical of the CDCR’s ability to regulate itself, citing the alleged failure of the CDCR to change practices surrounding solitary confinement since it was ordered to do so by a federal court.
“We have no faith in the Department of Corrections to reform things,” he said. “The court has discovered constitutional violations to this day, and they’ve directed the Department of Corrections to make reforms, but they still aren’t. The Department of Corrections just does what it wants.”
Berkeley Law professor Jonathan Simon said that the bill has “a good enough chance” of becoming law if it is revised.
Simon noted that campus students can email or write a letter to Newsom if they want to put pressure on him to sign the bill in the future.
“Politicians — especially ones like Newsom that are likely to run for further office and possibly for president — will very much care about the support of younger voters and active voters, college-educated voters,” Simon said. “And Berkeley voters, in this case, are Berkeley students.”
Jackie Valdez also contributed to this report.