Triplicate Staff

Elsewhere in today's Triplicate is a half-page advertisement purchased by advocates of inmates seeking almost a total abolishment of the Security Housing Units used at Pelican Bay and other state prisons.

It's jarring in its description of SHU residency as "torture." It's also an illustration of the American right of free speech playing out in the pages of your local newspaper, agree or disagree (it appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday).

So here's some more free speech. The advertisement is an example of the tendency of inmate advocates, including some state legislators, to ignore the problem SHUs were created to help solve:

Criminal activity on the urban streets of California is often

directed by gang leaders behind bars, and that's more easily done when

they're part of the prison's general population than when they're in a


Inmate advocates would have a lot more credibility if they

addressed what could be done to solve this problem without SHUs. In

other words, show some concern for preventing crime in addition to

protecting the rights of the incarcerated.

The Triplicate recently

produced a four-part series that focused on all aspects of the SHUs:

why they were created, how they work, and what SHU residents and

corrections officials have to say about all this. You can read it by

going to and clicking on "Inside the SHU."


writer Anthony Skeens' eyes-wide-open report has generated some

criticism from inmate advocates who apparently take umbrage at any

mention of the reasons why SHUs exist.

Ultimately, the series defined "indefinite solitary confinement" as it exists in the California prison system.


confinement" conjures up images of sensory deprivation in "the hole," a

phrase common in prison movies and books. But SHU inmates can have

roommates. They are within earshot of other prisoners. They have access

to a law library. They can have visitors.

On the other hand, they

are confined to their cells for all but about one hour per day. And in

the past, some have been sent to the SHU simply because they've shown an

interest in prison gang activity, not necessarily because they've

engaged in it. And yes, the length of SHU terms is often indefinite -

some people have been in there 20 years or more.

Torture? Not by most definitions. Unfair? It has that potential. Necessary? Prison officials certainly think so.


state has made some reforms, revamping the "validation" process that

can land an inmate in the SHU and expanding ways an inmate may be

released from the SHU. It has been reviewing the validation of all

inmates serving indefinite SHU terms. Through June, 378 reviews had been

conducted, resulting in 161 inmates being released back into the

general population and another 83 being placed in various phases of a

"step-down program" that could lead to release.

Some residents and

their advocates say that's not nearly enough. They fear the state's new

focus on "security threat groups" instead of prison gangs could qualify

still more inmates for indefinite SHU stays. And they point to an

ongoing inmate hunger strike as evidence of growing desperation on the

part of criminals who are now victims.

This is a complicated issue

that is generating a lot of simplistic rhetoric. Anyone who contends

there are easy solutions is not really a proponent of justice for all.

- Del Norte Triplicate