On July 1st, 2011 prisoners in California began a hunger strike to protest the inhumane and torturous conditions that they face inside Security Housing Units. After 3 weeks, they called off the strike when the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced they would make changes.
Prisoners at Pelican Bay and prisons around California resumed hunger striking on September 26, 2011 because the CDCR has not adequately addressed their 5 core demands regarding conditions in Security Housing Units. At one point comprising at least 12,000 prisoners in 13 prisons, hundereds continue to strike. The CDCR has met their peaceful resistance with retaliation, barring family and legal visits, issuing disciplinary measures and using sensory deprivation techniques such as turning on the air conditioning and witholding medications and water in an effort to break the strike.
Please visit www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com for continued updates.
The 5 Core Demands:
1. Eliminate group punishments. Instead, practice individual accountability. When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race. This policy has been applied to keep prisoners in the SHU indefinitely and to make conditions increasingly harsh.
2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. Prisoners are accused of being active or inactive participants of prison gangs using false or highly dubious evidence, and are then sent to longterm isolation (SHU). They can escape these tortuous conditions only if they “debrief,” that is, provide information on gang activity. Debriefing produces false information (wrongly landing other prisoners in SHU, in an endless cycle) and can endanger the lives of debriefing prisoners and their families.
3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement. This bipartisan commission specifically recommended to “make segregation a last resort” and “end conditions of isolation.” Yet as of May 18, 2011, California kept 3,259 prisoners in SHUs and hundreds more in Administrative Segregation waiting for a SHU cell to open up. Some prisoners have been kept in isolation for more than thirty years.
4. Provide adequate and nutritious food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food that do not conform to prison regulations. There is no accountability or independent quality control of meals.
5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates. The hunger strikers are pressing for opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities…” Currently these opportunities are routinely denied, even if the prisoners want to pay for correspondence courses themselves. Examples of privileges the prisoners want are: one phone call per week, and permission to have sweatsuits and watch caps. (Often warm clothing is denied, though the cells and exercise cage can be bitterly cold.) All of the privileges mentioned in the demands are already allowed at other SuperMax prisons (in the federal prison system and other states).