Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld submitted a written statement to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcomittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights in advance of a hearing on February 25, 2014 on “Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences.” 

Full text of the statement available here: RBGG-Statement for Subcommittee Hearing on Reassessing Solitary Confinement 1-21-14

Introduction to the statement set out below:

Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP (RBGG) appreciates this opportunity to submit testimony to this Subcommittee for its hearing on Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences. Having worked on behalf of thousands of prisoners who have spent time in solitary confinement, we urge the Subcommittee to take affirmative steps to address the overuse and misuse of solitary confinement in America’s correctional facilities, particularly with respect to prisoners with mental illness and disabilities.

Throughout the history of our firm, we have sought to end systemic abuses of prisoners and parolees that harm both our clients and public safety. We have brought about systemic change to reform unconstitutional conditions of confinement, denial of mental health care, unlawful discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, protection of prisoners from sexual assault, and violations of due process. We have represented individuals and large classes of prisoners who have been subjected to a range of abuses and dangerous practices in prisons and jails in California and in other states. For example, RBGG is lead plaintiffs’ class counsel in Coleman v. Brown, a case in which we represent more than 30,000 mentally ill men and women incarcerated in California’s prisons. Over the case’s 24-year history, we have advocated for systemic reforms to ensure that mentally ill prisoners receive minimally adequate treatment and are not subjected to substantial and avoidable risks of harm, including psychiatric deterioration and suicide. RBGG was co-lead plaintiffs’ counsel in the landmark United States Supreme Court case, Brown v. Plata/Brown v. Coleman (2011), in which the Supreme Court found that prison overcrowding was the primary cause of serious and longstanding constitutional violations in California’s prisons, and ordered that the State reduce prison crowding to levels at which minimally adequate mental health and medical care can be provided to prisoners.

In late 2013, we sought critical reforms to California’s use of solitary confinement for prisoners with mental illness during a twelve-day trial before the Coleman federal court. In connection with that proceeding, we gathered a substantial body of evidence on the State’s use of segregation – that is, solitary confinement – for the mentally ill prisoner  population; the effects of these practices on the mentally ill; and alternatives that are safe, feasible, more humane, and more effective in achieving penological objectives, enhancing public safety and serving the public. The conditions and practices we have seen in California’s solitary confinement units provide an important window into the dangers of solitary confinement and the need to chart a new path forward.

We encourage this Subcommittee and all stakeholders to commit to a fundamental transformation in how our correctional institutions respond to prisoners’ treatment needs as well as to perceived threats to individual and institutional security. It is time to move away from inhumane and counterproductive practices of isolation and deprivation, in favor of a new paradigm that emphasizes therapeutic and rehabilitative programs, clinically-based intervention, and incentive-driven strategies.