Juan Mendez, the United Nation's special monitor on torture, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday that he wanted access to California prisons in order to determine whether inmates held in solitary were having their rights protected.

He argued that "[w]e should have more justification" for placing prisoners in isolated confinement, and that "[w]e should put the burden on the state that this is the proper way to do things, and we should all be a lot more skeptical."

California has an estimated 10,000 inmates currently being held in isolation units, and most of them are there because of gang affiliations -- some because prison officials believe they are engaging in illegal gang-related behavior, others because officials believe their lives are threatened by gangs.

The California corrections department claims that prisoners housed in "Security Housing Units" aren't in solitary confinement, but Mendez raised concerns about any situation in which prisoners were confined to their cells for more than 22 hours per day with almost no social contact and for years at a time.

He is especially concerned about the state's purported practice of placing mentally ill prisoners in isolation. California's use of solitary confinement is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit.

Mendez has yet to receive a response from the state.

["Young man in jail" on Shutterstock]