Calif. Prison Hunger Strike Enters Third Week

PHOTO: Eighty-five percent of men in held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison are Latino, according to a lawsuit.Calif. Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Eighty-five percent of men in held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison are Latino, according to a lawsuit.

California prison officials say close to 1,000 prisoners are entering the third week of their hunger strike, a mass protest challenging the state’s use of indefinite solitary confinement.

“We want to inform the world that this hunger strike is far from over. We are in it for the long haul,” the remaining strikers said in a statement published Monday on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition's website. When the strike began, 30,000 of the state’s 120,000 inmates were reportedly participating.

Among the inmates' demands are an end to solitary confinement, adequate and nutritious food and an end of to group punishment. Their core demand is to end long term confinements in high-security "special housing units" (SHUs) where inmates are isolated for 22-24 hours per day. Prisoner advocates say more than 3,000 prisoners in California are held in the isolation units with no human contact and often windowless cells.

The United Nations has found that just 15 days in solitary confinement violates human rights standards and can do irreparable mental damage to a person.

An inmate is considered to be on a hunger strike after he has missed nine consecutive meals, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

CDCR says inmates identified as leading and perpetuating the disturbance are subject to disciplinary action. Earlier this month, CDCR called the prisoners' action a “mass hunger strike disturbance” that is being “organized by prison gangs.”

In their Monday statement, the strikers challenged that account and pressed the state's governor, Jerry Brown, to act on their behalf.

“We strongly urge Gov. Brown to return from his 'get-away' vacation overseas and deal urgently with this crisis before more prisoners suffer serious health damage or death," the statement said. "If any deaths do occur, the responsibility for them will fall squarely on Brown and the CDCR in their callousness and inaction."