Extending Oversight of Class-Action Settlement Upheld
April 9, 2021, Oakland, CA – Today, a federal court ruled that California’s ongoing violations of the rights of prisoners, including systemic fabrication of information supposedly provided by confidential sources, should be subject to extended judicial monitoring.
The ruling against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) came in connection with a settlement agreement meant to end the state’s unconstitutional practices. The settlement included a two-year period of monitoring by the court, but when the violations continued, the prisoners, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel, asked for a one-year extension, which was initially granted by a magistrate judge. Today, Federal District Court Judge Claudia Wilken denied CDCR’s objections to that ruling, ordering that an additional year of monitoring must go forward.
Filings in the case – some of which have been filed under seal, but which include public summaries of constitutional violations – detail CDCR’s abuse of confidential information to return men to solitary confinement. They report CDCR’s systemic fabrication of information supposedly provided by confidential sources – as well as fabrication of the sources themselves. At times, the filings document, this information has been fabricated to replace exculpatory information actually provided by an informant. Information has been altered to appear more damning than it is, and CDCR conclusions have been portrayed as statements of informants, according to the filings. Improper information – such as the constitutionally invalid “gang validations” that were at the heart of the underlying lawsuit – have been transmitted to the parole board, and the court found that such validations have, in fact, been a factor in denying parole. All of these, Judge Wilken said in today’s ruling, violate due process and demonstrate the need for the initial extension of the monitoring period.
“This ruling is a major victory for the class of prisoners like me who suffered in long-term indefinite solitary confinement,” said Paul Redd, a plaintiff in the case recently released from prison. “It’s so important that the court acknowledged the harms from abuse and misuse of confidential informants. In many cases, false information led to denial of parole and people being returned to security housing units. This ruling validates what prisoners have been claiming for decades. I myself have been directly affected by this abuse.” Mr. Redd is also a former hunger strike representative and a signer of the End of Hostilities, which was instrumental in bringing together 30,000 California prisoners supporting the hunger strike. He provided important testimony in support of the bill SB 1064, addressing the flagrant abuse and misuse of confidential information.
Plaintiffs had also sought additional monitoring based on a third systemic constitutional violation. Under the Ashker settlement agreement, people whose safety would be at risk in the general prison population were to be moved from solitary confinement to a “Restricted Custody General Population Unit” (RCGP). Today Judge Wilken agreed that the men placed in the RCGP were denied due process protections.
“This is a huge victory for the Prisoners Human Rights Movement, who have been organizing from behind bars for decades to bring attention to California’s inhumane treatment of people in prison,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “For years our clients explained that they were being sent to solitary confinement based on fabricated confidential evidence, but no one believed them. Just this year, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill SB 1064, which passed both houses of the California legislature and would have significantly curtailed CDCR’s ability to use confidential information in order to return people to solitary confinement. It is time for the governor and the legislature to act to end this abusive practice and to provide some relief to the men who spent years in isolation as a result.”
The settlement agreement explicitly provides for a 12-month extension of the judicial monitoring period if due process violations alleged in the initial complaint are shown to be continuing and systemic, or if such violations arise as a result of CDCR reforms required by the agreement. Today’s ruling that the first extension was warranted comes amidst a pending request for a second extension of the monitoring period, based on evidence that constitutional violations are still ongoing, as well as for remedies for the continued violations. The motion for a second extension of the monitoring period argues that, at this point – five years after the agreement was reached – those imprisoned are entitled not only to an extension of the monitoring period, but also remedies for the underlying, ongoing violations of their constitutional rights.
Ashker v. Governor of California amended an earlier lawsuit filed by then-Pelican Bay SHU prisoners Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell representing themselves. Co-counsel in the case with the Center for Constitutional Rights are Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Bremer Law Group PLLC, Ellenberg & Hull, the Law Offices of Charles Carbone, and the Law Office of Matthew Strugar.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.