California Prisoners Make Historic Call for Peace between Racial Groups in California Prisons & Jails

For Immediate Release—September 12, 2012

Press Contact:  Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, 510.444.0484

Oakland—Prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) have announced a push to end all hostilities between racial groups within California’s prisons and jails. The handwritten announcement was sent to prison advocacy organizations. It is signed by several prisoners, identifying themselves as the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective.   The Short Corridor refers to a section of Pelican Bay Prison’s notorious Security Housing Unit (SHU). Pelican Bay’s SHU was the point of origin for last year’s hunger strikes which rocked California’s prison system, at one point including the participation of nearly 12,000 prisoners in over 11 prisons throughout the state.

The statement calls for the cessation of all hostilities between groups to commence October 10, 2012, in all California prisons and county jails.   “This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end,” the statement says. It also calls on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes.   The Short Corridor Collective  states, “If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues.”  In the past, California prisoners have attempted to collaborate with the Department of Corrections to bring an end to the hostilities, but CDCR has been largely unresponsive to prisoners’ requests. The statement warns prisoners that  they expect prison officials to attempt to undermine this agreement.

“My long-time experience in urban peace issues, gang truces, prevention and intervention, is that when gang leaders and prisoners take full stock of the violence, and how they can contribute to the peace, such peace will be strong, lasting, and deep. I honor this effort as expressed in this statement,” says Luis J. Rodriguez, renowned violence intervention worker and award-winning author of Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.  Rodriguez has helped broker gang truces throughout the US as well as in other parts of the world. This spring, Rodriguez was involved in a historic truce between gangs in El Salvador leading to a 70% drop in violence in that country.  According to Rodriguez, “What is needed now—and where most peace efforts fail—is the meaningful and long-lasting support of society and government, in the form of  prison reform, training, education, drug and mental health treatment and proper health care. We need an end to repressive measures that only feed into the violence and traumas.”

Azadeh Zohrabi of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition sees the agreement as a positive development that stems from last year’s hunger strikes.  “While living through some of the worst conditions imaginable, the authors of this statement continue to work for change,” states Zohrabi. “While the prison administration drags its feet on even the most basic reforms, these guys are trying to build peace throughout the system.  That says a lot their humanity and hope.” Continue reading

Solitary Confinement as Torture: Some US Prisons Recognize the Problem, as California Inmates Ask the UN to Act

by Andy Worthington

Last July, when prisoners held in long-term solitary confinement in Security Housing Units (SHUs) in Pelican Bay State Prison in California embarked on a hunger strike to protest about the conditions in which they are held, I was pleased to find the time to wrote about it (which I did here, here and here — and again in October, here and here), as it had long been apparent to me that the abusive conditions to which foreign prisoners were subjected at Guantánamo — though shockingly innovative in terms of arbitrary detention — was otherwise a reflection of how America treats tens of thousands of domestic prisoners held in isolation, in some cases for decades.

This is barbaric, and clearly constitutes torture, and I was reassured to note that, three weeks ago, prisoners in California asked the United Nations to help them. As San Francisco Bay View explained in an article on March 21:

Comparing their conditions to a “living coffin,” 400 California prisoners held in long-term or indefinite solitary confinement petitioned the United Nations Tuesday to intervene on behalf of all of the more than 4,000 prisoners similarly situated [see here for the petition, and here for quotes from 22 of the petitioners].

“California holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other state in the United States or any other nation on earth. The treatment of these prisoners is barbaric and, numerous experts agree, amounts to torture,” [said] Peter Schey, who heads the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, [and] is lead counsel for the prisoners who have “joined together to petition the United Nations to intervene by conducting on-site investigations, permitting Red Cross visits, and ultimately ruling that California’s policy on isolated segregation amounts to torture and violates well-established international human rights norms.”

The petition, as the article described it, “calls for UN action against California’s prison administration and deplores the conditions of thousands of California prisoners,” who in Peter Schey’s words, are “being detained in isolated segregated units for indefinite periods or determinate periods of many years solely because they have been identified as members of gangs or found to have associated with a gang.” As the petition describes it, “The policy that has resulted in their prolonged detention does not require that they have actually engaged in any misconduct or illegal activity, or that they even planned” to do so.

Peter Schey also noted that, for the 400 petitioners, the lockdown for 23 hours a day in the SHUs and Administrative Segregation Units (ASUs or AdSegs),is designed to “destroy their mental and physical health and destroy them spiritually.” He added, “They live like prisoners held in a gulag, not a modern democracy.” Continue reading

California Prison Officials offer hunger strikers retaliation and repression

Loved ones and human rights defenders rallied in Sacramento this week in solidarity with tortured California inmates

, Human Rights Examiner

October 7, 2011

Historical peaceful protest by 12000 California prisoners prompts officials to begin freezing them in small concrete cells

On Day 12 of the resumed historical peaceful Pelican Bay Prison Hunger strike, it has become apparent to human rights advocates with the major group supporting the inmates interviewed by CNN that numbers of strikers began dropping this week, from 12,000 refusing food, after the CDCR intensified retaliation against them, such as air conditioning the small concrete cells at 50 degrees. The hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay who had been kept in D Corridor of the Security Housing Unit were moved to Administrative Segregation at Pelican Bay while at least one inmate on strike who was denied medications has suffered a heart attack. Continue reading

California: Prisoners Supporters Rally at CDCR Headquarters As Hunger Strike Enters 10th Day

October 5, 2011

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Sacramento – Family members and supporters of prisoners on strike throughout California will rally outside California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) headquarters as the strike enters its 10th day. Over 1,200 prisoners continue to refuse food in an effort to force the CDCR to address their five core demands, in particular those related to long term solitary confinement, gang validation, debriefing and group punishment. Over the course of the last week, nearly 12,000 prisoners participated in the strike from thirteen California prisons, as well as California prisoners housed out of state in Mississippi, Arizona and Oklahoma, making it one of the largest prisoner hunger strikes in US history. “From the very northern most tip to the very southern most tip of California, prisoners in Security Housing Units (SHUs), Administrative Segregation Units (Ad-Seg) and general population are starving themselves because their human rights are being violated,” says Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “We are not going to stand by while the CDCR tortures our loved ones.” Continue reading

With 12,000 Participants Last Week, Prisoner Hunger Strike Begins 8th Day

October 3, 2011

CDCR Bars Family Member Visits

Press Contact: Jay Donahue

Oakland – As the renewed prisoner hunger strike enters it’s second week, the federal receiver’s office released information that at least 12,000 prisoners were participating during the first week. Prisoners are continuing a hunger strike that they temporarily suspend in July. Originating from Security Housing Units (SHUs) and Administrative Segregation Units (Ad-Seg) across the California, prisoners held at Pelican Bay State Prison, Calipatria, Centinela, Corcoran, Ironwood, Kern Valley, North Kern, Salinas Valley, California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, Pleasant Valley State Prison, San Quentin as well as West Valley Detention Center in San Bernadino County are currently participating. Over 3,000 California prisoners held in  out-of-state facilities in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma have also refused food.

“This is the largest prisoner strike of any kind in recent US history,” says Ron Ahnen of California Prison Focus, “The fact that so many prisoners are participating highlights the extreme conditions in all of California’s prisons as well as the historic opportunity the state has been given to make substantial changes to SHU and Ad-Seg policies.”

Family members of striking SHU prisoners reported that their visits this weekend were denied by the Califonia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) who cited security concerns. “A number of family members received notice that they were not going to be allowed to see their loved ones as long as the strike continues,” says Dolores Canales who has a son in the Pelican Bay SHU, “Denying visits only heightens the isolation that the prisoners and family members experience, especially at this critical time.” Continue reading