California prison hunger strike: Authorities say it’s over but some inmates still refuse to eat
July 22, 2011
Inmates in 13 prisons throughout California Wednesday appear to have ended a three-week hunger strike, according to prison authorities, that began as a protest against conditions at the high-security, “super max,” Pelican Bay State Prison in Del Norte County. [SF Gate.com]
The hunger strike started at the prison in Crescent City, near the Oregon border, on July 1 and quickly spread through the system, with 6,600 inmates in 13 prisons joining the protest against conditions at special housing units, also known as SHUs.
Prisoners are confined in these isolation cells usually after some infraction in the prison. They are kept locked in soundproof cells for up to 23 hours a day. Inmates claim the only way to get out is to admit gang involvement or to provide incriminating information on gang members, which puts them at risk.
Some news reports claim that California prison authorities abuse the practice of isolating inmates and have kept some inmates in isolation for a period of years. Prisoners were protesting indefinite detention in those cells, among other concerns.
The protest had dwindled last week to about 700 inmates in five prisons and, state prison officials said, ended Wednesday after inmates “better understood” plans to review and change some prison policies.
Activists supporting the inmate hunger strike, however, said they doubt reports from prison authorities that the ordeal has come to end, saying some inmates continue to refuse food. They are trying to reach prisoners to check on the status of the strike. The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity had scheduled a vigil in support of the effort for Thursday night.
The Los Angeles Times reports that at least 500 inmates continue to strike: “More than 400 inmates remain on hunger strike at the California State Prison in Corcoran, more than 100 at the California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi and about 29 at Calipatria State Prison.”
Prison authorities, meanwhile, claim the hunger strike was organized and driven by gang members.
“This strike was ordered by prison gang leaders, individuals responsible for terrible crimes against Californians, and so it was with significant and appropriate caution that [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] worked to end the strike,” said Corrections Secretary Matt Cate.
Jay Donahue, a spokesman for the prisoner support group, said it doesn’t matter whether strike leaders were also gang members.
“That completely misses the point why people were hungers striking,” Donahue said. “The conditions there are inhumane and dangerous.”
Donahue said he was also skeptical that the strike had ended because he alleged that guards had previously told inmates the protest had ended when it was still ongoing.
Officials said some inmate demands will be met, and might include allowing cold weather caps, the hanging of wall calendars and some educational opportunities for inmates in isolation units.