Ricky Gray has been in solitary confinement since 2006, despite having a violence-free prison record and no major disciplinary infractions.
Shane Bauer’s excellent Mother Jones article on solitary confinement—which tells Gray's story—is the latest addition to a long line of depressing indictments of the draconian methods practiced in California prison system. Bauer’s research suggests that nearly 12,000 Californian inmates are currently housed in some form of isolation, with 3,809 of these serving an indeterminate sentence. David Barneburg, the institutional gang investigator for California’s Pelican Bay prison, claims that segregating gang members through solitary confinement is the only way to keep prisons from being overrun by racial conflict and killings. Despite this the rate of violent incidents in California prisons has risen almost 20 percent in the 23 years Pelican Bay has been in operation.
In 2006 Ricky Gray was validated as a member of the Black Guerrilla Family (a gang classified as a ‘security threat group’ that, according to Californian prison officials, operates within the state’s prisons.) In order to make the official classification the state of California requires at least three pieces of evidence pointing towards gang membership with at least one of these showing a ‘direct link’ between the prisoner in question and a validated gang member.
But the state doesn't seem to have met this standard in Gray's case. A review ordered by a sympathetic warden found that many of the informants in Gray’s case didn’t even know Gray. Two alleged informants signed sworn affidavits documenting that they were never interviewed about Gray and hadn’t even met the guard who compiled the original statements.
But before action could be taken, the sympathetic warden in charge of Gray’s review moved on, leaving it up to the initial gang investigator to choose to overturn the validation status. After he refused to do so, Gray took the case to court where it was ruled that;
A prisoner has no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongfully accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest.
Bauer suggests that this is merely another way of saying that "it is not illegal for prison authorities to lie in order to lock somebody away in solitary."