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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 9th, 2016, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 17, Issue 36 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 17, Issue 36

Inmate sues Santa Barbara County Jail for putting him in solitary confinement


Robert Lee Billie, an inmate at the Santa Barbara County Main Jail, is suing Sheriff Bill Brown and his department for placing him in solitary confinement when he was a pretrial detainee. 

In a federal lawsuit filed on Oct. 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Billie alleges that jail staff “knowingly, willingly, and arbitrarily” reassigned him to the “Level 5 General Population Restrictive Unit.” 

Starting in March 2014, Billie claimed that he was confined for 280 days before the housing unit was dismantled, according to the handwritten filing. 

Billie said he was placed in restrictive housing as punishment without due process. 

“I was illegally detained and housed in a disciplinary isolation unit here in the Santa Barbara County Jail without being sentenced to disciplinary isolation time,” Billie wrote in the lawsuit. “I am claiming false imprisonment.” 

During his time in the unit, Billie submitted several grievance forms he claimed were ignored. 

While in the unit, Billie said he was locked down for 24 hours each day for most days of the week, he could only shower in a “shower cage” every other day, was deprived of a radio and television, was offered no rehabilitation programs, and was subject to routine medical and psychological wellness checks by unqualified personnel. 

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover couldn’t comment on the case, citing active litigation, nor did she confirm if the unit was dismantled. 

The Sun submitted a formal request for the jail’s policy on housing inmates in restrictive units, but didn’t receive a response as of press time. 

The use of solitary confinement in the county jail has come under fire in the past. In a report released earlier this year, Disability Rights California found “widespread overuse” of prolonged isolation and that inmates with disabilities were subjected to “undue and excessive isolation and solitary confinement” with no access to mental health treatment. 

“Even a short stay in conditions of extreme isolation is likely to worsen prisoners’ mental health symptoms,” the report noted. 

Solitary confinement in state prisons has been subject to recent controversy. A lawsuit settled in September 2015 ended the indefinite use of segregated housing units at Pelican Bay State Prison. 

Following the settlement, the conversion of segregated housing units to more inclusive units would save the state $28 million, according to the state’s 2016-17 budget proposal.

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