Pelican Bay State Prison opened in December,1989 to house Level 4 maximum security inmates in general population and, those men it deemed the most dangerous criminals in a separate building on the same site, known as the Security Housing Unit -- SHU. According to it's website, Pelican Bay State Prison has an annual operating budget of $115 million and employs over 1400 custodial/support staff.

The SHU houses approximately 1500 men. Prison officials describe it as a “modern design” in total isolation.

If you cannot imagine what it must feel like to live in a 6' by 9' cell, with NO human contact, read the following. You will understand why human rights organizations are so concerned.

A Day in The Life at the SHU
By Gabriel Reyes

Security Housing Unit a Living tomb

What Is It?
  • a 6x9-foot cell, a prison within a prison
  • a prisoner’s surroundings at least 22 hours a day
  • sensory deprivation, no sunlight, no fresh air, no training or educational activities, and no phone access
  • very little human contact, not even with guards
  • around-the-clock electronic surveillance
  • occasional release to an indoor exercise pen that is barely larger than the “residence”
  • strip searches and shackles whenever leaving the cell
  • routine gratuitous and racist beatings and abuse
  • total neglect of psychological, medical and spiritual needs
  • living hundreds of miles away so that it’s a hardship for family members to visit

Who Gets Sent There?
  • Mostly Black and Latino (85% are people of color) prisoners for:
  • being in a gang (as evidenced by anonymous snitch notes, group photos, tattoos, innocent letters from home, speaking with known gang members, possessing art or literature construed as gang related)
  • being a prisoner of conscience
  • signing birthday or get well cards for other inmates
  • writing to another prisoner's family
  • repeatedly violating minor rules
  • being affiliated with political or other groups on the outside
  • sometimes being mentally disturbed

How Long Are They There?
  • sometimes for years; sometimes for life
  • often for indeterminate periods of time

How Do They Get Out?
  • via “debriefing” or by becoming informants
  • by being free from “gang activity” for six years
  • occasionally through parole

Are SHU's Legal?
In 1995 a Federal Court found the conditions at the SHU to be unconstitutional Amnesty International claims that supermax (or SHU) facilities violate international standards for the humane treatment of prisoners and exceeds what is necessary for security purposes

The UN Special Rapporteur has announced it will be conducting an investigation in the near future of torturous and inhumane treatment at Pelican Bay SHU

In mid 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the treatment of the men at the Pelican Bay SHU

What Is The Costs to the Taxpayer?
  • $10 billion a year (that's $10,000,000,000) to run the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation see:
  • $180 million ($180,000,000) to run Pelican Bay State Prison see:
  • Over $70,000 per year to house a SHU inmate as opposed to just over $58,000 for a general population inmate; and over $77,000 to house an inmate in the Administrative Security Unit (also segregated, isolated housing) see:

What else is going on?
On July 2011 the inmates at the SHU began a hunger strike to protest the SHU conditions which spread to over 6,000 - and some estimates are greater - men and women in California's prisons. The strike spread to other states in the US and gained national attention. The lack of any substantive response from the warden, led to a second strike in early September, 2012. For more information go to: