In Sacramento, California about 30,000 of the inmates in California prisons refused meals for the second day in support of inmates held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, stated he correction official.
The meals were first refused on Monday then again on Tuesday. Inmates declared that the strike would be their third extended hunger strike in two years to protest the conditions many inmates face in solitary confinement. More than 4,500 gang members, gang associates and serious offenders are held in the security units where many of the inmates are kept in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades.
For a prison system that is already facing legal and logistical challenges a hunger strike brings more of a burden. Officials are currently struggling to move about 2,600 inmates from two Central Valley prisons because they are considered “vulnerable” to a potentially fatal airborne fungus. The prison has also appealed a separate court order requiring the state to release nearly 10,000 inmates by year’s end to reduce prison crowding in order to improve conditions for sick and mentally ill inmates.
The isolation units that are the focus of the hunger strike are at Pelican Bay near the Oregon border and at three other maximum security prisons around the state. Inmates refused breakfast and lunch at two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons and at all 4 private prisons that hold California inmates in other states explained Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It is still unsure how many inmates skipped dinners.
Inmates as well have refused to go about their day, on Monday about 2,300 inmates statewide refused to go to their jobs or classes, then on Tuesday the number went down to 2,000 inmates. The number of inmates refusing meals has slowly gone done, from 30,000 on Monday to 29,000 on Tuesday.
About two years ago, the number of participates cause two hunger strikes. About 12,000 inmates missed at least some meals in October 2011, and nearly 7,000 declined meals in July 2011. Officials said many inmates began to eat again after several days had passed.
Pelican Bay inmates said through advocacy groups that the protest began after talks with prison officials broke down last month over inmates’ demands that the department end long term solitary confinement. Thornton mentioned that the department changed its policies last year to give gang associates a way out of the units. About half of the nearly 400 inmates considered so far have been or will be let out of solitary confinement, while another 115 are in a program in which they can work their way out of the units.
This past April, a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by 10 Pelican Bay inmates alleging their living condition in the isolation units are unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.
In the mean time 12 inmates at High Desert State Prison near Susanville continued a separate hunger strike they began July 1, to protest conditions in the administrative segregation unit there. Twenty-three inmates have refused meals at the prison 185 miles northeast of Sacramento, but about half have resumed eating.
The Prisoner Hunger Stike Solidarity Coalition is planning protests in solidarity with the inmates. About 75 people rallied in solidarity in downtown LA on Monday, and about a dozen of demonstrators gathered in front of the King County Jail in Seattle.
Prisoner demands call for state officials to:
-stop punishing groups for the actions of individuals
-stop rewarding those who provide information on others
-institute constructive programs for those in solitary confinement
-end long-term solitary confinement
The California prison system currently holds over 10,000 prisoners in solitary confinement units, with dozens having spent more than 20 years in insolation, according to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.