A Pelican Bay State Prison inmate says a "security/welfare check" policy implemented Aug. 3 has caused him and others sleep deprivation and demanded the policy stop.
A letter to the secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from John R. Martinez, a prisoner held in Pelican Bay's isolated Security Housing Units that were the subject of a landmark settlement Tuesday, says the security/welfare checks take place every 30 minutes preventing inmates from sleeping.
In his letter, Martinez notes the policy has been justified to him by Coleman v. Brown, an ongoing federal court case covering all California prisoners with serious mental disorders, according to CDCR's website.
In 1995, "The Court said that prison officials violated the cruel and
unusual punishment clause of the Constitution because they did not
provide adequate mental health care" and the case continues to influence
CDCR's policies for providing prisoners with mental health care.
"However, as you know, or should know, Coleman applies to inmates
with serious mental illness," Martinez wrote in a letter to Jeffrey
Beard, secretary of CDCR. "However, as you also should know, I and
inmates similarly situated do not suffer from serious illness. Moreover,
these so called security/welfare checks do absolutely nothing to
prevent mental illness. To the contrary, they cause mental impairment
through serious sleep deprivation."
CDCR spokesperson Terry Thornton said the checks are not just for
suicide prevention, but also for the security and welfare of the
Martinez's letters indicate he's not convinced.
"These security/welfare checks are counter-productive to their so
called intended purpose (mental health care) and serve zero legitimate
penological purpose other than to harass and mentally torment us
prisoners. (Note: we are unable to sleep as we are awoken every 30
minutes)," Martinez wrote.
In a response to a cease and desist letter regarding the checks,
Warden Clark Ducart, cited a May 2014 CDCR memorandum saying the checks
were to further CDCR's efforts to combat inmate suicides.
Beard addressed the new welfare check program during his confirmation
hearing in June 2013, saying ""I'm very hopeful that as we move forward
that we will see the [inmate suicide] numbers come down totally and in
segregation units as well."
According to a May 2013 memorandum, correctional officers will
perform "three welfare checks per hour at staggered intervals not to
exceed 30 minutes" on prisoners held in segregation units like the SHU.
According to the memo, welfare checks were conducted during the first
21 days of an inmate's stay in an Administrative Segregation Unit, but
the checks could continue beyond 21 days "when deemed clinically
In 2013, prisoners' rights advocate group Legal Services for Children
raised concerns about the welfare checks causing sleep deprivation and
the timing of the policy coming right before a planned prison
system-wide hunger strike.
This time, the resurgence of the wake-up policy comes weeks before
CDCR's settlement of a class-action lawsuit from Pelican Bay inmates
claiming long-term solitary confinement violates their rights against
cruel and unusual punishment.
Martinez started a short hunger strike to denounce the current checks
causing him sleep deprivation. In a letter announcing his strike he
"Deprivation of sleep is a common form of torture and has no place in
a civilized society. Sleep is a basic human need and a fundamental
constitutional right and I shouldn't have to be starving myself so I and
my fellow prisoners can get some sleep."