California Could Soon Reform Solitary Confinement—Unless Gavin Newsom Intervenes

Some advocates see solitary as a major disability justice issue.

A collage of two images. The first, on the left, is of a solitary prison room with a toilet, bed and water dispenser visible. The second, one the right, is of two people holding up posters that say "California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement."

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Tracie Bernardi Guzman felt betrayed by her governor.

Back in 2018, Bernardi Guzman had shared her story with Ned Lamont, the Democrat who, at the time, was running to be Connecticut’s chief executive. She told Lamont about the two decades she’d spent in prison—and about her suicide attempt in her fifth out of seven years in solitary confinement. She found him empathetic. She thought he cared about criminal justice reform.

That changed in 2021. That year, state lawmakers passed legislation to limit the use of solitary. Bernardi Guzman—a leader in the ACLU Smart Justice Connecticut program—and allies from groups like Stop Solitary CT fought hard for the bill. But Lamont vetoed it.

“He pretended he cared in order to get votes,” Bernardi Guzman says.

With advocates in states like California now pushing their own lawmakers to rein in solitary, Bernardi Guzman’s experience offers a warning about the obstacles that a recalcitrant governor can create—and, perhaps, a roadmap for how those obstacles can be overcome.

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