It is day 41 of the California prison hunger strike, with 129 hunger strikers in six prisons across the state, with 69 of them having refused food since July 8th. As of this writing, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has refused to enter negotiations with the hunger strikers, and Governor Jerry Brown has still not commented on the hunger strike.
In the third statewide hunger strike since June 2011, hunger strikers are demanding an end to long-term solitary confinement, nutritious food, productive programming, a reform to the process that places thousands in the Security Housing Unit (SHU), and an end to group punishment. The epicenter of the hunger strike is Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, where over 500 prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for over 10 years.
There are four official SHU facilities across the state of California; approximately 3,000 prisoners are currently segregated for being deemed members or associates of prison gangs. Many are held in solitary confinement; while others are forced to share cells in 8×12 cells designed for one.
According to data from June, 1,732 of the 3,835 SHU prisoners at the four prisons with SHU facilities are single-celled.
The following is the institutional breakdown:
- Tehachapi State Prison: 1,227 in SHU, 363 single celled
- Corcoran State Prison: 1,333 in SHU, 515 single-celled
- California State Prison, Sacramento: 93 in SHU, 36 single-celled
- Pelican Bay State Prison: 1,182 in SHU, 822 single-celled
The hunger strike has seen fluctuating participation the past week:
- On August 17, there were 131 hunger strikers in six prisons; 70 had been on hunger strike since July 8.
- On August 16, there were 190 hunger strikers in eight prisons; 98 had been on a hunger strike since July 8.
- On August 15, there were 226 hunger strikers in seven prisons ; 118 had been on hunger strike since July 8.
- On August 14, there were 252 hunger strikers in eight prisons; 125 had been on hunger strike since July 8.
- On August 13, there were 287 hunger strikers in eight prisons; 133 had been on hunger strike since July 8.
- On August 11th, there were 270 hunger strikers in six prisons; 152 had been on hunger strike since July 8.
The California Office of the Receiver has confirmed various transports of hunger strikers to facilities with better medical facilities than Pelican Bay. According to a friend of one hunger striker, Pelican Bay strikers were transported to the ASU at California State Prison, Sacramento.
A letter dated August 14th from hunger strike leader Arturo Castellanos, published by the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition, indicates that he and other hunger strike leaders remain in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) at Pelican Bay.
He writes of the bleak situation in the ASU cells and the medical transports:
Being in these cells for just 30 days, I can fully understand why they committed suicide. They are truly oppressive and constitute very depressing conditions. Suicide? Hell yes! Especially for those men and women who receive SHU terms of indefinite SHU and have to wait in these depressing cells for six months to two years until a cell opens up in SHU for them. Our attorneys are requesting that the Coleman attorneys, who are also our attorneys, file a motion in the court to order CDCR to immediately close and stop housing men and women prisoners in these “unfinished” ASU cells until they fully renovate them.
This is our 38th day on our no solid food, no dairy product hunger strike that we started on July 8, 2013. Of the 66 SHU prisoners who were moved here from both C and D facilities [SHU units], 25 have been transferred to the Sacramento Medical Center at New Folsom Prison. Some of those are in the hospital. They were volunteers who, even though they had serious chronic illnesses, still went on hunger strike and are now on high medical risk status.
They still remain on hunger strike, even though some of them are already being force fed through an IV. The rest of us remain here until we also become high medical risks and are transferred or until the CDCR comes half way in the negotiations with our attorneys and comes to a fair settlement agreement.
In a letter also published by the coalition, from hunger strike leader Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Jamaa writes about the steps they’ve taken to contribute to positive change in the prison system. He refers to the August 2012 “Agreement to End All Hostilities” that several Pelican Bay SHU prisoners representing Black, White, Northern and Southern Hispanic inmates signed on to calling on all inmates across the state to end racially motivated violence. He accuses CDCR of obstructing these efforts
He also reiterates the motives of the hunger strikers. For decades, California prisoners deemed members or associates of certain prison gangs and placed on indefinite terms in the SHU could only get out of the SHU by either maxing out of their sentence, debrief (or, “snitch”) on their gang, or die.
On this, Jamaa writes:
We realize that the justification for locking men and women away in solitary confinement on prison gang validations indefinitely while also subjecting us to a military debriefing process as the only way to program out constitute attacks to our physical and psychological well-being. Prisoners can no longer withstand such torture.
This process has led to many debriefings and mentally ill prisoners throughout CDCR: in PBSP-SHU, Corcoran SHU, Tehachapi SHU, Folsom SHU and San Quentin Adjustment Center (Death Row). As people who have suffered under such a brutal, diabolical system, we realize that it is our responsibility to help change the course of violent prison systems that have made their way to our communities.
On this point, CDCR has repeatedly claimed that it has already addressed this concern through its reformed SHU and gang validation system. Since October, it has begun case-by-case reviews of all 3,000 prisoners placed in segregation units for gang affiliation to determine whether or not they should be released from the SHU or placed in a Step Down Program. The Step Down Program would hypothetically allow prisoners to leave the SHU within 5 years without engaging in debriefing, a claim that hunger strikers are highly skeptical of.
In a Friday press release, CDCR has described the status of these reviews:
Currently, due to the demands on staff, CDCR is conducting case-by-case reviews of validated prison gang members and associates only in institutions that have no inmates participating in the hunger strike. As of August 12, 425 reviews have been completed systemwide; 268 validated inmates have either been transferred or are approved for transfer to a general population facility and 125 inmates were placed in various phases of the Step-Down Program, an incentive-based, multi-step program that provides graduated housing, enhanced programs, interpersonal interactions and increased privileges for validated inmates who refrain from criminal gang behavior.
Solitary Watch endeavors to provide regular updates on the hunger strike. If you have received information from a current or former hunger striker, please contact the author: Sal.Solitary@Gmail.com