Facing the threat of legal action and in the wake of a hunger strike that made national news last year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is quietly testing guidelines for treating their most dangerous inmates. The new policies could result in a migration of offenders from the state’s super max facilities back into the general prison population.

The policy relates to how the state identifies and handles members of and associates to ‘security threat groups.’ There are seven identified groups on the list that range from prison gangs to street gangs to hate groups. Together, they fuel much of the violence in California’s jail system. Their violence also spills over the prison walls on occasion, resulting in violence in the streets.

Under current policies, once a prisoner is identified with a gang affiliation, they can be transferred to one of the state’s Security Housing Units. There, they are held in windowless cells in isolation. Currently, there are more than 500 inmates who have been held in those conditions for more than a decade.

Prisoners and prisoner rights advocates content that those conditions amount to cruel and unusual punishment. They also say that the burden of proof used by the state to send inmates to the special and expensive units is too low, and violates the right to due process.

Prisoners can be sent to the Security Housing Units for showing gang signs, having gang tattoos, wearing certain clothing, or participating in gang activity. Once there, the current system offers few ways out.

Read the full story at California Watch.