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California To End Unlimited Solitary Confinement Of Gang Members In State Prisons

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- A settlement has been reached in a federal class action lawsuit that will effectively end indeterminate, long-term confinement in all California state prisons.

The suit was filed against Gov. Jerry Brown in May 2012 on behalf of prisoners in the security housing unit at the Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City in Del Norte County who have spent a decade or more in solitary confinement.

The suit alleged that prolonged solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and also asserted that there is no meaningful process for transferring out of isolation and back to the general prison population.

Prisoner rights activists in Oakland Tuesday said the legal action is part of a larger movement to reform security housing units at all California prisons that was sparked by hunger strikes by prisoners in such units in 2011 and 2013.

The nine plaintiffs in the case said in a joint statement, "This settlement represents a monumental victory for prisoners and an important step toward our goal of ending solitary confinement in California, and across the country."

They said, "California's agreement to abandon indeterminate security housing unit confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action."

Mohamed Shekh of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition said the settlement will apply to all state prisons in California, not just Pelican Bay.

Jules Lobel, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs and the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "Today's victories are the result of the extraordinary organizing the prisoners managed to accomplish despite extreme conditions."

Lobel said, "This far-reaching settlement represents a major change in California's cruel and unconstitutional solitary confinement system."

He added that he hopes California's reforms will be a model for other states.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials weren't immediately available for comment on the settlement.

The case is before U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland and she must approve the settlement.

Activists and prisoners' family members were scheduled to hold a news conference and rally outside the state building in downtown Oakland at noon Tues ooday.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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