45 Emory L. J. 1089 (1996)
If the Shu Fits: Cruel and Unusual Punishment at California's Pelican Bay State Prison

handle is hein.journals/emlj45 and id is 1099 raw text is: IF THE SHU FITS: CRUEL AND UNUSUAL
PUNISHMENT AT CALIFORNIA'S
PELICAN BAY STATE PRISON
Judges spend their lives consigning their fellow creatures to prison;
and when some whisper reaches them that prisons are horribly cruel
and destructive places, and that no creature fit to live should be sent
there, they only remark calmly that prisons are not meant to be com-
fortable, which is no doubt the consideration that reconciled Pontius
Pilate to the practice of crucifixion.'
I. INTRODUCTION
The Security Housing Unit2 at Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent
City, California, is the last stop in California's penal system. It was in this
unit that Vaughn Dortch, a prisoner with a life-long history of mental prob-
lems, was confined after a conviction for grand theft. There, the stark con-
ditions of isolation caused his mental condition to dramatically deterio-
rate,3 to the point that he smeared himself repeatedly with feces and
urine.' Prison officials took Vaughn to the infirmary to bathe him and
asked a medical technician, Irven McMillan, if he want[ed] a part of this
bath.5 McMillan responded that he would take some of the 'brush end,'
I GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, THE CRm OF IMRiSoNmENT 14 (1946). This passage has special
meaning for those who are troubled by judicial abdication in the prison environment. See, e.g., Michael
Knight, Comment, Censorship of Inmate Mail and the First Amendment: The Way of the Circuits, 19 TEx.
TECH L. REv. 1057 (1988); Note, Beyond the Ken of the Courts: A Critique of Judicial Refusal to Review
the Complaints of Convicts, 72 YAL.E LJ. 506 (1963).
2 Security Housing Units (sometimes referred to as Disciplinary Control Units, Special Manage-
ment Units, or other similar names) are a common feature in American prisons. Their unifying character-
istic is that they segregate inmates from general population prisoners and subject them to greater restric-
tions and fewer privileges. The degree of restriction may vary, depending on a number of factors, includ-
ing the institution's penal philosophy and the underlying reason for the inmate's segregation. See Russ
Immarigeon, The Marionization of American Prisions, NAT'L PRISON PRoiac J., Fall 1992, at 1.
3 Former Inmate at Pelican Bay Wins Judgment Against State, S.F. CHRON., Mar. 1, 1994, at A18
[hereinafter Former Inmate] (quoting James Chanin, attorney for Vaughn Dortch).
' Bill Wallace & Susan Sward, Suicidal Inmates Often Ignored-Until Too Late, S.F. CHRON., Oct.
4, 1994, at Al.
' Madrid v. Gome., 889 F. Supp. 1146, 1167 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (quoting trial transcript at Tr. 1-
144). Madrid is the class action suit filed by Pelican Bay inmates alleging that various conditions of con-
finement and prison practices violated their constitutional rights. The case is discussed at length in Part
lV, infra.

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