Inmates in a third of California‘s prisons are conducting a hunger strike in protest of solitary confinement policy. Recent reports show that many inmates, who are in their third week of the strike, have shown dramatic weight loss and are collapsing from starvation, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The protesting inmates, who are most active at Pelican Bay State Prison, Corcoran State Prison, and the California Correctional Institute at Tehachapi, have been refusing meals since July 1, according to KPCC radio. Many of the protesters are in solitary confinement, otherwise known as security housing units (SHU).
They have five core demands (via Prisons.org):
1. “Eliminate group punishments” and instead enforce individual accountability.
2. Abolish debriefing policies, which dictate that inmates in SHU can only be released into the regular prison population if they provide information on gang activity.
3. Make prisons comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) to end longterm solitary confinement.
4. “Provide adequate food” and sanitary conditions in solitary confinement.
5. Have the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation expand and provide education programs and other privileges for SHU inmates.
Estimates about the number of striking prisoners vary. The LA Times places the number of protesters at about 400, while the New York Times reports that about 2,000 California inmates are under medical watch. The Huffington Post reports that nearly 1,500 prisoners are involved. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told SolitaryWatch.com that at least 6,600 inmates have refused meals.
One of the protesting Pelican Bay inmates, Todd Ashker, told the New York Times, “we believe our only option of ever trying to make some kind of positive change here is through this hunger strike… there is a core group of us who are committed to taking this all the way to the death if necessary.”
The protest comes after a May Supreme Court decision that ordered California to reduce its prison population by over 30,000 inmates, but it is not related to overcrowding.
Prison spokeswoman Terry Thorton told the New York Times that gang members are leading the hunger strike, which reinforces the need to isolate them. Both the LA Times and KPCC requested to visit the SHU at Pelican Bay. Officials refused.
Prison advocates have started a blog to keep the public updated on the hunger strike movement.