California Blames Hunger Strikes on Gangs, Vows Crackdown

PHOTO: California Department of Corrections officer speaks to inmates at Chino State Prison in 2010 photo.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
California Department of Corrections officer speaks to inmates at Chino State Prison in 2010 photo.

On Thursday the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced prisoners participating in the hunger strike will face consequences, including being punished with the very thing they’re protesting: solitary confinement.

CDCR called the prisoners' action a “mass hunger strike disturbance” that is being “organized by prison gangs.”

Close to 30,000 prisoners across 24 California prisons began a hunger strike on Monday to call attention to a number of conditions they say are inhumane. The prisoners are demanding changes to policies that allow prisons to hold inmates in solitary confinement for an indefinite period of time.

As of Thursday afternoon, 12,421 inmates in 24 state prisons and four out-of-state contract facilities have missed nine consecutive meals since July 8th, according to a statement released by the department.

Those participating in the hunger strike may be subject to solitary confinement, according to the statement:

"Inmates identified as leading and perpetuating the disturbance will be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with the California Code of Regulations, Title 15 Section 3315(a)(2)(L) and may be removed from the general population and be placed in an Administrative Segregation Unit pursuant to CDCR’s hunger strike policy."

Prisoner advocates say inmates held in indefinite isolation in California are confined for 22-24 hours a day in small, often windowless cells, and are deprived of meaningful human contact. Hundreds have been held in ‘Security Housing Units’ (SHU) for more than ten years, according to Amnesty International.

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.

CDCR claims it recently made changes to its gang-related SHU procedures: “The new comprehensive strategy supports CDCR’s goals of reducing long-term SHU confinement for offenders who do not engage in gang behavior.”

Prisoner advocates say that’s not true.

"California prison authorities pledged to carry out reforms - at the very least to give prisoners a way out of indefinite isolation - but they have broken this promise. And rather than improving, conditions have actually deteriorated,” Thenjiwe McHarris, a campaigner with Amnesty International said in a statement.