Originally meant to be brief and exceptional, solitary confinement in U.S. prisons has become long-term and common. Prisoners spend twenty-three hours a day in featureless cells, with no visitors or human contact for years on end, and they are held entirely at administrators’ discretion. Keramet Reiter tells the history of one “supermax,” California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, whose extreme conditions recently sparked a statewide hunger strike by 30,000 prisoners. This book describes how Pelican Bay was created without legislative oversight, in fearful response to 1970s radicals; how easily prisoners slip into solitary; and the mental havoc and social costs of years and decades in isolation. The product of fifteen years of research in and about prisons, this book provides essential background to a subject now drawing national attention.
Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society and at the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine, has been an advocate at Human Rights Watch and testified about the impacts of solitary confinement before state and federal legislators. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.
Keith Wattley is the founder and executive director of UnCommon Law. He has been advocating for the rights of prisoners and parolees for nearly twenty years. Prior to launching UnCommon Law in 2006, Keith was a staff attorney at the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit law firm in Berkeley. He has represented thousands of prisoners in impact litigation and individual matters involving mental health care, gang validation, religious freedom, prison infirmaries, medical care, excessive force, visitation, parole consideration and parole revocation. He has also trained hundreds of lawyers, law students and others in prisoner and parole advocacy. Keith is also co-chair of the Institutional Review Board (human subjects committee) for the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. He was also a member of the Founding Board of Directors for the Prison University Project (San Quentin’s College Program) and a member of the Board of Directors for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
UnCommon Law is a California non-profit law office whose mission is to help long-term prisoners understand and resolve the factors that contributed to their crimes so that they can safely be released. We work with prisoners for months or years in advance of their parole board hearings, and we represent them in those hearings and in court petitions challenging the parole board and the Governor.