Sacramento, CA, February 18, 2022 – Today, Assemblymember Chris Holden introduced AB 2632, the California Mandela Act on Solitary Confinement. The bill, named after Nelson Mandela seeks to protect the human rights of everyone in California from the damaging effects of solitary confinement. The California Mandela Act would provide one set of clear standards for jails, prisons and private civil detention facilities on the issue of isolation and solitary confinement. The bill defines solitary confinement as any period of confinement that exceeds 17 hours a day in a cell, requires facilities to document any instance in which solitary is used, and places limits on the duration any person can be held in this manner. AB 2632 would also ban the use of solitary confinement for certain populations including people who are pregnant, have disabilities, or fall within certain age limits.

The bill follows a clear roadmap developed in legislation passed by other states to pursue alternatives to solitary confinement focused on rehabilitation and programming. This includes recent legislation passed in New York and Colorado, and inspiration from the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules, which define prolonged solitary confinement as torture. 

“Rehabilitation is lost once you put someone in a solitary confinement setting,” said Assemblymember Chris Holden.  “Our constitution prohibits torture, and I believe that the use of prolonged solitary is wrong, both morally, and also with respect to the rehabilitation of individuals in jails and prisons.” 

Some of the most heartbreaking examples of the use of solitary confinement in California include a shocking story of a woman giving birth alone in isolation in 2018 at the Santa Rita jail. A man who spent eight years in solitary confinement based on the possession of a banned book, as well as the tragic case of a 74-year old disabled man found dead in his solitary cell at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in 2020.

“Being incarcerated under the best of circumstances is a struggle for your sanity and humanity, but to be placed in solitary confinement is physical and psychological torture intended to kill the spirit. California must put an end to this dangerous and damaging practice,” stated Ricardo Villa. Mr. Villa has been subjected to solitary confinement in the Sacramento County Jail for repeated and prolonged periods of time over the past three years.

The issue of solitary confinement has historically been rooted in issues related to social justice in California. In 2011, California had more people in solitary confinement for longer periods than any other state. Through the efforts of detained people and advocates a number of legal settlements have resulted in changes in prisons and jails. Now, the California Mandela Act can provide important and humane alternatives to solitary confinement for all facilities in the state. “The Mandela Act builds on the decades of work done by detained individuals, activists and organizers to shed light on the darkness that is solitary confinement and allows for constructive alternatives. This bill promotes accountability, safety, and human decency and I hope others will see that too,” said Holden.