Amnesty Prison Report Slams California Prisons' Solitary Confinement Policy

California's extensive use of solitary confinement in two state prisons subjects thousands of inmates to "cruel and degrading" conditions and amounts to illegal torture, Amnesty International said in a new report Thursday.

The human rights group compiled the extensive report after gaining rare access to Pelican Bay State Prison and California State Prison at Corcoran, two maximum-security prisons where about 3,000 prisoners are held in extreme isolation, often for decades or longer.

One prisoner told interviewers that his confinement made him feel he was "silently screaming 24 hours a day."

Hundreds of inmates at the two prisons have spent more than a decade in isolation, and nearly 80 have been confined more than 20 years with virtually no human contact. Corrections officials say the units are necessary to fight prison gangs and to maintain safety in the prison system by removing the "worst of the worst" from the general population.

Amnesty International called on authorities to scale back on solitary confinement, using it only as a last resort to maintain prison safety -- not as punishment for an accumulation of minor rule infractions, or as a method to gather intelligence on prison gangs, as prisoners and human rights advocates claim.

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