Home>Articles>Gov. Newsom Just Vetoed Bill to Severely Curtail Prison Solitary Confinement

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at his recall election rally on at Culver City High School, Culver City, CA, Sept. 5, 2021. (Photo: Maxim Elramsisy/Shutterstock)

Gov. Newsom Just Vetoed Bill to Severely Curtail Prison Solitary Confinement

Political science professor attributed the veto to Newsom’s political ambitions

By Evan Gahr, October 4, 2022 2:50 am

California Govenor Gavin Newsom just vetoed legislation that would have severely curtailed solitary confinement in the state’s prisons jails and private correctional facilities, drawing the ire of legislation supporters who consider the practice torture.

In his veto statement for AB 2632 by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Los Angeles), Newsom said that solitary confinement needed reform but the legislation was too overreaching. “Segregated confinement is ripe for reform in the United States–and the same holds true in California. AB 2632, however, establishes standards that are overly broad and exclusions that could risk the safety of both the staff and incarcerated population within these facilities.”

Trying to triangulate the issue Newsom said he would order the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop regulations that would “restrict the use of segregated confinement except in limited situations, such as where the individual has been found to have engaged in violence in the prison.”

But Hamid Yazdan Panah, advocacy director for Immigrant Defense Advocates, which supported the legislation, bristled that the CDCR is unlikely to implement any serious reforms and he suggested that Newsom vetoed the legislation because of his presidential ambitions.

“We are concerned that Mr. Newsom is doing what is right for him as opposed to California,” Panah told the California Globe. “The lack of serious engagement by the governor with legislators on this issue, and his unilateral decision to pursue regulatory changes in prisons and ignore jails and private detention facilities is disappointing. CDCR in particular has been cited for failing to implement court ordered changes with respect to solitary confinement, so we have little faith in the regulatory process and believe a comprehensive legislative solution is necessary to end torture.”

Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), who authored the legislation, said in a statement it would have given California a chance to redress its “dark history” on solitary confinement and “get it right on this issue.”

“The scientific consensus and the international standards are clear. Solitary confinement is torture and there must be limitations and oversight on the practice.”

The legislation would have limited placing somebody in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days and limited solitary confinement to no more than 45 days in a 180 day period. It would have required those in confinement to be out of their cells for at least 4 hours per day for things like meals and social services.

AB 2632 would have entirely barred solitary confinement for pregnant and postpartum women, anybody with physical or mental disabilities and anyone 25 years of age or younger or 60 and above.  It also would have prohibited placing transgender women in men’s prisons in solitary confinement for their own protection, which the California Department of Corrections sometimes does.

All of this would have created a nightmare logistical scenario for prison officials. As State Senator Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) asked during debate on the legislation in the Senate, “If you have the revolving door of, ‘OK you get a couple of weeks and then you get to go back out and do it all over again,’ where’s the incentive to not engage in that type of behavior [again]. There isn’t any.”

The legislation was opposed by the California Peace Officers Association, the prison guards union, and the California State Sheriffs’ Association. The Sheriffs’ Association contended that guards are “best situated to make decisions about best practices and faculty standards.”

The California Peace Officers Association said in a letter opposing the legislation that it would lead to more violence in prisons. “Inmates who have attempted, or succeeded in, murdering their cellmates would be let right back into the population they pose a risk to.”

But University of California at Santa Cruz psychology professor Craig Haney, an expert on solitary confinement, told the California Globe that the practice is an ineffective means of punishment. “Long-term solitary confinement is extremely harmful, very costly and, in the long run, not only does not make prisons or society any safer but may well do the reverse. I am disappointed that Governor Newsom” did not sign the bill, “but  hope it will lead the CDCR to reform the practice anyway, as he advised them to do,” he emailed.

 Why is it ineffective?

“Because there is nothing about putting someone in a concrete box nearly around-the-clock and leaving them there for long periods of time [that] is likely to change them in positive rather than negative ways,” Haney contended. “And that’s what the evidence shows—people’s behavior does not change for the better once they are released from solitary confinement. Moreover, solitary confinement does nothing to address the underlying causes of the problematic behavior. For example, many people in solitary confinement, including in California prisons, have underlying mental health problems; it is obvious that subjecting them to the harsh realities of solitary confinement is likely to make their condition worse rather than better.”

Newsom was clearly tilting at liberal windmills by vetoing the legislation. In recent years opposing solitary confinement has been very fashionable on the left. Last year, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that severely curtailed the practice in its jails and prisons.

The United Nations deemed solitary confinement torture in 2015. Barack Obama condemned it the following year as “an affront to our common humanity.”

The condemnations ignore the obvious fact that some prisoners are so incorrigible, solitary confinement is the only viable option to keep jails secure.

True to form AB 2632 was called the California Mandela Act after anti-apartheid crusader Nelson Mandela, suggesting that inmates are political prisoners like Mandela was. They are, in actuality, hardened criminals.  There are no political prisoners in California, contrary to what the legislation suggested.

Why would a stalwart liberal like Newsom buck the liberal trend? University of California political science professor Thad Kousser attributed the veto to Newsom’s political ambitions.

“Gov. Newsom has clearly been balancing liberal signatures with more moderate vetos this month to set himself up as a future presidential candidate with appeal in both the primary and the general election,” Kousser told the California Globe. “Each of those actions comes with a political cost, but his hope is that the overall balance brings greater benefits.”

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2 thoughts on “Gov. Newsom Just Vetoed Bill to Severely Curtail Prison Solitary Confinement

  1. He needed to veto it since he’s running for President in 24..!! He couldn’t have that stain on his record if he signed it.

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