Prison officials in California confirmed on Thursday, September 29, that more than 4,000 inmates have been on a hunger strike since Monday.
It’s the second time this year that inmates have refused food to protest a prison system’s use of Security Housing Units — known as “the SHU” — to control prison gangs.
They were also protesting inhumane prison policies, including a policy that allowed nearly half of Pelican Bay’s 1,111 prisoners to be held in solitary confinement for more than ten years. According to the California Department of Corrections, 78 prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for more than 20 years.
Hunger Strike In July
As Care2′s Amelia Thomson DeVeaux wrote here, prisoners at Pelican Bay, a maximum-security prison in northern California, began a hunger strike in July to protest their conditions in the solitary unit. The strike quickly spread to other prisons, and eight days later, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation admitted that at least 6,600 prisoners in at least 13 of the state’s prisons were refusing food.
After three weeks, prison officials announced that California inmates had ended the hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison in Del Norte County, near the California/Oregon border, when prison officials agreed to a change in SHU policies.
Prison Officials Have Not Made Good On Promises
But now the hunger strike is back on. Prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU who led that month-long hunger strike in July say prison officials have not made good on promises to meet their original demands, and that they have no other choice but to go back on strike.
Each day, inmates in the SHU at Pelican Bay get 15 minutes to shower, and a little over an hour to exercise in a concrete yard.
They spend the rest of the day — nearly 23 hours — locked in their cells. No phone calls. No physical contact with visitors. The Department of Corrections says the SHU was designed to punish and control inmates that run prison gangs. Inmates say it’s a form of torture to coerce them to “rat” on other prisoners so they can get out of the SHU.
Pelican Bay and Calipatria State Prison Joining Forces
Prisoners in Pelican Bay are being joined by around 100 prisoners in Calipatria State Prison, located in the southeastern side of California, in their hunger strike this time, say members of the coalition Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity.
“Inmates have felt that the California Department of Corrections is not negotiating in good faith,” said Isaac Ontiveros, a member of Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity. “The negotiations that led to the suspension of the strike in July were because prisoners felt like, ‘OK, there’s been a semblance of good faith negotiation.’”
Ontiveros said in the interim, prison inmates reported that not only had those negotiations gone nowhere, but prison guards had also begun intimidating and retaliating against those who had organized or participated in the hunger strike this summer.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation needs to step up and take care of this problem without delay.
Photo Credit: Al Lucero Jr.