California prison hunger strike continues

Jul 25, 2013

Tensions remain high in the California prison system. A hunger strike that started two and a half weeks ago is ongoing, with more than 700 inmates in ten state prisons still refusing to eat. The strikers are demanding reforms to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s policy of keeping inmates housed in security housing units indeterminately. Supporters say more than 3,000 inmates are currently stuck in there indefinitely – many have been in the SHU for decades – because there is no clear policy on how to get out.

“Most of the people who are ‘validated’ as gang members are associates of gangs, not people who’ve engaged in any gang activity,” explains Laura Magnani, who works with American Friends Service Committee. Magnani represented the interests of inmates in a meeting with prison officials this past Monday.

According to Magnani, most of the segregated prisoners are involved in gangs. But the problem is that California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation defines "gang involvement" too broadly." Magnani explained that inmates could be kept in long-term isolation for "having the wrong books, having the wrong symbols, having the wrong tattoos, and talking to the wrong people. But,” she explains, “state prison officials say they've put a pilot program in place that provides a clear path out, based on the inmate’s behavior and ability to demonstrate their independence of a gang.”

As the hunger strike continues, officials say there are no plans to negotiate with prisoner advocates, nor the prisoners themselves. More than 30,000 inmates refused meals on the first day of the strike, which began on July 8, 2013. Demonstrations are planned in Oakland and Sacramento for next Tuesday.