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California Governor Vetoes State’s Humane Solitary Confinement Bill

by Kevin W. Bliss

The California Mandela Act –
Assembly Bill (A.B.) 2632 – passed with an overwhelming majority of votes from state legislators in August 2022, limiting the use of solitary confinement in prisons, jails and immigration detention centers in the state. But it was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on September 29, 2022.

Research studies show that the practice is harmful and expensive, while also undermining rehabilitation. Prisoners subjected to long periods of isolation suffer from depression, anxiety, hallucinations, insomnia, cognitive decline and suicidal ideation. Solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days is defined as torture by the United Nations. Yet Yale Law School research showed in 2021 that 41,000 to 48,000 U.S. prisoners were being held under solitary conditions at any given time.

In California, Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) authored A.B. 2632, calling it the state’s chance to correct its dark history of solitary confinement. “The scientific consensus and the international standards are clear,” he stated. “Solitary confinement is torture, and there must be limitations and oversight in the practice.”

In a message accompanying his veto, Newsom said he worried the bill would hamstring prison and jail officials, potentially allowing dangerous prisoners or detainees to threaten one another or staff. “Segregated confinement is ripe for reform in the United States and the same holds true in California,” he allowed. “But this bill establishes standards that are overly broad and exclusions that could risk the safety of both the staff and incarcerated population within these facilities.”

Newsom is also on a short list of potential 2024 Democratic Presidential candidates, in a political environment where GOP attacks invariably begin with “soft on crime.”

The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said it was “currently drafting regulations that address the issues the Governor raised in his veto message.” But it provided no other details. Meanwhile Holden reintroduced the measure, now known as A.B. 280, in the current Assembly session on January 24, 2023. 

Additional sources: CalMatters, Jefferson Public Radio, Los Angeles Times

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