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]

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.


The simple truth is is they don’t like being around their kind!


“let them starve”–wishful thinking, since 95% of this prisoners will be released back into society and we’ll all have to pay for treating them so inhumanely.


Wow! some of the responses here are totally crazy. “Let them die”, “Make them break rocks”, “Convict labor in caves”. Well for all you people that think we must torture our criminals, I’ve got news for you. Our constitution protects us from CRUEL AND UNUSUAL punishment if you were ever to have read it. Our US supreme court already said CA state prisons had to reduce the population by half because of the cruel and unusual deal. Pay attention, our state hasn’t done squat yet despite that court order. Our draconian law enforcement system in CA has a greater incarceration rate than any country in the world. If you don’t think that is a problem, you are then part of the problem. I want my tax dollars focused on education so people don’t end up in prison. Instead, we just keep cutting more from education so more people end of in prison because they have little or no education and make stupid decisions. Our drug laws are a complete failure. Let’s see what have they done. Put hundreds of thousands in prison and jails therefore creating jobs for more DAs, more guards, more prison construction, and so on. Take the friggin profit out of drugs will stop dealers from making money tax free, greatly reduce the prison population, the loads on the courts and the space in jails, allow for more money to be spent on education and less on the corrupt correctional officer’s union, stop people from ripping people off just to get the money for drugs. If people want to od on cheap drugs, that is a hell of a lot cheaper than to incarcerate them. Counseling and education is waaaaay cheaper than incarceration. Read the UN report release this year on the drug war. Thanks Nixon, rot in hell.


You do realize there is a difference between “cuel and unusual” and “hunger strike” which is selve imposed.

I love the way you went from that to Nixon. Quite an acheivement.


I can’t speak for standup but IMO he is right in that the people that are saying things like ‘let them die’ and that don’t mind if they are tortured are wrong. Those people weren’t just talking about the hunger strike, they’re talking about cruelty. I’m one of the ones that doesn’t care if they strike, I feel that they’re doing fine but I don’t want them tortured or kept in cruel conditions, they are humans. I just don’t feel that they are living in cruel conditions, I feel that they need to cut back just like the rest of us. But I don’t want to kill them or deliberately torture them.


What amazes me is how well organized the protest is…

Frankly, the concept of old style discipline… such as …flogging of the old days ruins both the captor and the captive. Most people don’t want prisons to be a house of horrors… but if you talk to the prison ‘residents’, their biggest concern is WHO will they be rooming with? It is obvious that the most dangerous need to be isolated.

From a humane perspective, everyone else needs to be kept busy with on-the-job training and work helping the state recover some or all of its costs. They used to make school furniture and license … farming could be added to this list.


twenty three cents an hour working for defense contractors



That is an eye opener


whaaa, whaaaa, whaaaa…

Making big rocks into little rocks is what they should be doing, then they wouldn’t have time for protests.

And if they don’t like the conditions, maybe they should have thought of that before they broke the law!


judge not lest you be judged! so many of you should be ashamed of your self. they are already doing the time for their crime some of which did nothing and were just in the wrong place at the wrong time i hope and pray that none of your family members or yoursel’ves ever fall into the wrong place wrong time. no one deserves to be treated like that. you dont know how many of them feel for what they have done didnt your parents ever teach you if you can’t say nothing nice dont say nothing at all. guess not your so miserable in your own life you have to dump on someone else to lift yourself up how sad. do more research before you start judging. i pray you have a better life and i WISH YOU LOVE


‘scuse me, but did you even read the article?

Pelican Bay is one of only a few “supermax” prisons in the nation where only the worst of the worst go to pay back their debt to society. Facts are facts, if they did not break the law, get caught, were tried by a jury of their peers and sentenced to hard time they would never have been there in the first place…

And by the way my mother taught me to obey the law, tell the truth and say my prayers, so I have nothing to be ashamed of.


Waaa,,, poor guys. It’s very hard to feel sorry for them. They already have better health care than my family does. If they don’t like it then they shouldn’t have committed any crimes in the first place. This makes me sick. These guys sue us right and left, they cost us a lot of money and now they protest the way they’re being treated when it’s their choice to be there, too bad for them. Let’s transport them to Mexican prisons and see if they like it there better.


the prison industrial complex is designed not from a public safety standpoint at all but from an economic and profit standpoint. Inmates are harmed beyond a term of isolation imposed by the courts through the horrors that are perpetrated behind locked doors. Prisons are disease ridden because the conditions of confinement are not a concern to the free world, but those diseases spread to the free world because most inmates are released eventually. The family unit suffers, especially the children because they have, for all practical purposes, been abandoned by a parent. This harm is especially prevalent for people of color and lower income citizens. In our quest as a nation for safety from crime, while listening to a biased media, we have responded with “just desserts” thinking without evaluating the effects of our actions on society as a whole. This is the same kind of thinking for which we blame those who commit crimes. America has neglected to take responsibility for our own part in mass incarceration. We are willing to “stock the shelves” of our prisons with human beings for the profits of a few and turn a blind eye to the horrors of prison. “Dostoevsky and Churchill have observed that the real measure of civilization in any society can be found in the way it treats its most unfortunate citizens – its prisoners.” … In this nation of freedom and prosperity citizens have refused to acknowledge that we are being measured and we are harming ourselves.

Author: Candyce J. Hawk


I get that and in a perfect world the conditions would be better. But the cost is just too much. Like everything these days it’s all done a$$ backwards. They allow prisoners to work out with weights and get bulked up, they allow prisoners the use of legal books so they can learn how to sue because their blanket has a hole in it. They’re not allowed to force schizophrenics and other people that need meds to take the meds that they need. They do have top medical and dental care. Yes to basic medical care, perhaps a step less than what my children have or at least equal. Yes exercise but perhaps yoga or something that doesn’t get the testosterone going even more. Instead of paying for an expensive up to date legal library and computer resources how about putting that money towards better living conditions. Cut down on the bureaucracy and provide programs that rehabilitate. Make the docs work a full work day instead of 2 or 3 hours a day while getting paid for a full week. But that’s not being done and it won’t.

So in that case they’ll have to do with what they have IMO, times are tough all over. Like many that are probably reading this, I have friends and a family member that work in prisons. They all say that prisoners don’t have it that bad as far as living conditions. The worst part of is that they don’t have good programs for rehabilitation.

Of course there are some things that are horrible but over all they are livable. There are people that deliberately commit crimes so they can go into prison. My family member told recently of a man that needed expensive cancer treatment had deliberately got caught and went to prison for the treatment and that’s becoming more common so it must not be that bad.


“The conditions there are inhumane and dangerous.”

I would counter that the inmates are there because they are inhumane and dangerous

let em starve


The whole idea of a prison hunger strike makes me laugh. If I were a guard, and a prisoner told me “I’m not going to eat until you fix these things that bother me”, my response would be to figure out how to keep ’em disgruntled enough to continue the strike. Any time prisoners go on a hunger strike the state saves money, and there is a chance some of ’em might starve to death. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Someone recently floated the idea of contracting out California’s incarceration to Mexican prisons. The benefits would be two-fold: the state could save a ton of money, and the recidivism rate would drop dramatically if convicts thought they would have to spend time in a Mexican jail. Great idea, in my opinion.


Too bad the wasted food could not go to homeless shelters and put to good use. Many homeless people are on a constant “hunger strike”, but not of their own doing.


If the citizens are lucky these criminals will starve to death. If a criminal is in pelican they did some bad stuff, and deserve whatever punishment the system can dish out. “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”