Why Are 30,000 California Prisoners On Hunger Strike?

Around 30,000.

That’s the number of inmates in California state prisons who refused meals for the third day on Wednesday, July 10.

In 2011, a hunger strike over several weeks in California prisons saw at its peak about 6,000 prisoners refusing to take food, but this number is much bigger: it amounts to around one fourth of all the people being held in the state’s prisons currently, making it the largest hunger strike in state history.

The protest has spread to two-thirds of the 33 prisons across the state and all 4 private out-of-state facilities where California sends inmates, corrections officials said.

In addition, thousands of prisoners have gone on strike, refusing to attend their work assignments for a third day.

The protestors are showing their solidarity with inmates at the remote Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, near the Oregon border, who are being held in solitary confinement in the “SHU,” or Solitary Housing Units, essentially a prison within a prison.

They are demanding an end to the protracted use of solitary confinement: in some cases prisoners have spent 25 years encased in concrete, with no windows, almost entirely alone, with no view of the outside world except possibly through a television, and no rehabilitation programs.

From KPCC:

Each day, inmates in the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison near the Oregon border 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.

Protestors are demanding, amongst other things, that five years should be the maximum time for a prisoner to spend in these conditions.

As NPR reports, more than 90% of the inmates are there because they are allegedly linked to violent prison gangs, but in fact these connections are tenuous at best. For over half of the men, the evidence for their connections to these gangs amounts to nothing more than tattoos or drawings or letters.

The protest has been organized by the prisoners themselves, who have been working on this action for months. In spite of their isolation, they’ve been able to use letters and visits, and gather support from families, friends, and several advocacy groups.

In part, they are responding to California Governor Brown’s recent declaration that the prison crisis is over.

From The New York Times:

California is facing the threat of being charged with contempt of court after a Supreme Court order in May 2011 to reduce its prison population by 10,000 inmates this year. The court said crowding and terrible conditions inside the prison system constituted inhumane treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

On Wednesday, the state filed for a stay of the court’s order to release prisoners.

Gov. Jerry Brown has repeatedly said that the state has gone as far as it can to release low-level offenders and reduce crowding at the prisons, and that it is providing adequate medical care for inmates.

Back in 2011, the hunger strike ended when the protestors were promised reforms. Two years later, when changes have been minimal, it won’t be so easy.

The 2013 protest involves the same issues and even many of the same inmates, but this time around protestors are unlikely to back down until they get a legally binding agreement for immediate changes.

Isn’t it time California started treating its prisoners with more respect?


Photo Credit: ewar woowar


Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W4 years ago

of and sent to prison for. If they were in CA, do you think they belong in solitary? Are they violent? Or perhaps they've just gotten caught up in a system that is set up to trap the most innocuous of us.
Remember - more and more states are entering into contracts with for-profit prisons. The terms of those contracts generally state that the state will pay for a minimum 90% capacity.
Now with crime constantly going down, how to justify those costs? Easy.
Just put more and more misdemeanor felons in prison.
That's where you end up finding your siblings, your parents, your kids, your neighbors, your co-workers.
Prisons should be a community responsibility. That is the only way to ensure that punishments are just and those in charge will be held accountable.
Now excuse me while I go throw up. The hateful, awful words in your posts has made me sick to be an American! You're all reprehensible and I can only pray that for your sakes, Karma doesn't find out about you.
Special Kudos out to Paul B., Jean, Kathleen, Bill E., Kevin B., Sandra S., Lynn C. Barbara L. and Deanna and anyone else I read too fast. Thank you all for having foresight & basic human compassion & common sense.
Remember - a majority of these people will go back to their original communities. Do you want them to arrive angry & crazed or rehabilitated?

Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W4 years ago

Sue H. - some of these prisoners are there for nothing more than drawing a butterfly on a paper coffee cup. The man that did that was sentenced to 5 yrs. solitary. You cannot question it for a min. of 2 1/2 yrs. That's how long before you're allowed to see your or any lawyer. It takes that little.
Cecily - Would like to know where you got that statistic. And there's no reason to believe that our crime rate would go up when it's been going down since the mid-1990's. It's just that now more offenses are jail-worthy than before. That's for-profit prison for you.
Deborah W., Nikki J., Lynda P., Steve N., Joe V., Bryeana, Clara, Sylvia, Karen G., Barbra, Tamara, John S., Genevieve, Angela M., Anne M., and Gerald I.
I thank God every day that people like you are not in charge of this country (or are they?)
Your visciousness, your love of torture, your total LACK of understanding of what's really going on here is symptomatic of the evil that vengence wreaks.
I agree that violent felons should be maintained vigilantly. But what we are talking about here is TORTURE. There is no other word for it.
And I see you people as being all for torture.
Torquemada looking for a few good whippers? You should all apply.
The next person who could be there could be you. Don't think so?
You ever late paying a bill? Ever run a yellow light? Were you broke and couldn't finish siding your home? All of these are real crimes that real people, very much like you, have been convicted

B Jackson
BJ J4 years ago

Paul B - Was able to find one of the newspaper articles from my "Steven Spielberg" story. You have enough info to look up the entire story with several Colorado media sources. Please note that inmate Turner was on work detail at the Hardin ranch. Canon City, CO is home to 13 state prison facilities, neighboring town of Florence, CO has a federal prison.

B Jackson
BJ J4 years ago

Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph August 28, 1976 � Escapee Kills Five; Takes His Own Life � A 23-year-old Colorado State Penitentiary inmate shot himself to death Friday afternoon after a rampage of murder and rape that resulted in the mass slaying of a five-member family in their three-bedroom ranch house a mile south of Penrose. Richard Joseph Turner, who killed all five members of the John E. Hardin family Thursday night, was found shot to death in a stolen pickup truck, Friday afternoon about seven miles northeast of Hillcrest, near Ft. Morgan, roughly 200 miles from the scene of Thursday's murders. Turner died of a gunshot wound from a .22-caliber pistol as sheriff's officers closed in on him after a manhunt that started about 10:30 a.m. Friday, shortly after the bodies of the Hardin family were discovered in their blood-spattered home. Turner, serving an indeterminate-to-five-year sentence for a 1975 Morgan County conviction of �gross sexual imposition,� was a trusty at the Fremont County Jail. He was placed there last November for protective custody. Turner was on a work detail at the Hardin ranch at the time of the slayings. Gov. Richard Lamm has ordered an investigation into the circumstances that led to Turner being granted trusty status by Fremont County Sheriff John Vernetti. The victims were identified as John E. Hardin, 37, a reserve penitentiary guard who worked in the prison's minimum security section; his wife, Antoinette, or

Deanna R.
Deanna R4 years ago

Can't believe they'd be doing this solitary confinement for up to 25 years. How inhumane!!! Awful. How in the heck could this rehabilitate anyone? How about teaching them meditation instead, as there was a program to do that in southern California and it really changed their lives so that they never would even think of doing a crime again. I think it's obvious our criminal "just us" system has failed us, along with a lot of other programs, and needs a major overhaul. Take the profit out of it and really make it about changing lives instead of just punishing and exploiting people.

Cynthia B.
Cynthia B4 years ago

Most inmates are human beings and they deserve respect. NOBODY is perfect;People can understand their mistakes and can change for the better.

Paul Butler
Paul Butler4 years ago

@@B.J, you my friend have been watching way too many Steven Spielberg movies. I can shoot holes in your story all day. First off since the 1960's Prisons have had the no fraternization policy in effect, which would absolutely prohibit any classification of inmate to hold a job working for or interacting with Prison guards outside of prison. No matter the risk level this inmate was at he would of never been allowed around families of prison guards due to the fraternization policy which causes a conflict of interest and potential corruption and lack of judgment through manipulation. So this is as believable as conjugal visits in todays prisons! It just will not ever happen. Great fictional story tho but if you would like to correct me share with us what news media outlet covered that story or what town it was in since im sure it made national news and this is the first I've ever heard of such rubbish, if not then please make more meaningful or useful comment instead of trying to incite fear with false stories. Last I checked the last three American Domestic terrorists (One killed children in a grade school, one killed members in a holy temple, one killed military at a base, etc etc etc etc) were not ex convicts or prisoners, but instead could legally carry firearms and assult weapons. So whos more of a threat to society?

Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

Solitary confinement is worse than execution.

Kay M.
.4 years ago

Thank you for the article it was very informative,

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago