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30,000 California prisoners begin hunger strike and work stoppage against long-term solitary confinement

By staff |
July 9, 2013
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Los Angeles, CA - On July 8, 30,000 prisoners in California began a massive, system-wide hunger strike and work stoppage. This is likely the largest prison strike in U.S. history. The prisoners have five demands, centered on stopping long-term solitary confinement, group punishment and administrative abuse, as well as other issues of appalling prison conditions, many of which can be classified as torture. The strike is uniting prisoners across lines of race and nationality throughout the California prison system.

The prisoners say they will not eat and will also not work unless the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agrees to negotiate honestly about their demands. Their five demands are:

-- End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse
-- Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria
-- Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement
-- Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food
-- Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates.

California prisoners engaged in two three-week hunger strikes in 2011 based on the five demands. There were 12,000 prisoners in at least a third of California’s 33 prisons who participated in the 2011 hunger strikes. In the face of the protests, the authorities had agreed to make some changes, but two years later those changes haven’t been implemented and some conditions have worsened.

The prisoners’ action has its roots in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) prison. The SHU is a supermax prison designed to isolate that prisoners who authorities feel they can’t control, including politically conscious prisoners. They are away from the general population in total isolation, in conditions widely acknowledged to be torture. Prisoners can get sent to the SHU indefinitely. Similar conditions exist in the Administrative Segregation units of California’s other prisons. The California prison system currently holds nearly 12,000 prisoners in solitary confinement units, with dozens having spent more than 20 years each in isolation.

Those 12,000 imprisoned people spend 23 of 24 hours living in a concrete cell smaller than a large bathroom. The cells have no windows, no access to fresh air or sunlight. People in solitary confinement exercise an hour a day in a cage the size of a dog run. They are not allowed to make any phone calls to their loved ones. They cannot touch family members, who often travel days for a 90 minute visit; their conversation and their mail is monitored by prison guards. They are not allowed to talk to other imprisoned people. They are denied all educational programs and their reading materials are censored. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, stated that any time over 15 days in solitary confinement constitutes torture. Yet many people in California state prisons have been caged in solitary for 10 to 40 years.

The prisoners have called on people on the outside to support their struggle and amplify their voices. See a video about the hunger strike: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw4bgeZpgdU and follow the hunger strike solidarity website for developments: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

inspector