The Five Most Important Demands from the California Prison Hunger Strike

Thousands-strong strike is the latest chapter in the state’s unfolding prison crisis

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-five-most-important-demands-from-the-california-prison-hunger-strike-20130716

July 16, 2013

For more than a week, the California prison system has been gripped by the largest hunger strike in its history. Today, campaigners say that some 12,000 inmates continue to refuse food in roughly two-thirds of the state’s 32 facilities. That’s down from the 30,000 who kicked off the strike, but still more than twice the number who participated in a similar action two years earlier.

The strike – which began with a group of men held in isolation in Pelican Bay State Prison before spreading across the state – was principally motivated by California’s aggressive use of solitary confinement. In many cases, the strikers’ demands are simple: one photo a year, one phone call per week, permission to use wall calendars.

“The prisoners are not on a suicide mission,” says Roger White, campaign director of a Bay Area coalition called Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity. “If they didn’t have hope that things could change and that CDCR [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] could actually implement the demands, they wouldn’t be striking.”

In 2011, a United Nations torture rapporteur called for an absolute and international ban on indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, arguing that just a few a days locked up alone in a cell has been shown to produce lifelong mental health problems. In California, hundreds of Pelican Bay prisoners have spent a decade or more in solitary confinement – some for as many as 20 or 30 years. Continue reading

California: Three Prisoners Die in Hunger Strike Related Incidents

November 17, 2011 — CDCR Withholds Information from Family Members, Fails to Report Deaths

Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

Oakland – In the month since the second phase of a massive prisoner hunger strike in California ended on September 22nd, three prisoners who had been on strike have committed suicide. Johnny Owens Vick and another prisoner were both confined in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit and Hozel Alanzo Blanchard was confined in the Calipatria Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU). According to reports from prisoners who were housed in surrounding cells and who witnessed the deaths, guards did not come to the assistance of one of the prisoners at Pelican Bay or to Blanchard, and in the case of the Pelican Bay prisoner (whose name is being withheld for the moment) apparently guards deliberately ignored his cries for help for several hours before finally going to his cell, at which point he was already dead. “It is completely despicable that prison officials would willfully allow someone to take their own life,” said Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “These guys were calling for help, their fellow prisoners were calling for help, and guards literally stood by and watched it happen.”

Family members of the deceased as well as advocates are having difficult time getting information about the three men and the circumstances of their deaths. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is required to do an autopsy is the cases of suspicious deaths and according to the Plata case, is required to do an annual report on every death in the system. Family members have said that their loved ones, as well as many other prisoners who participated in the hunger strike, were being severely retaliated against with disciplinary actions and threats. Blanchard’s family has said that he felt that his life was threatened and had two emergency appeals pending with the California Supreme Court at the time of his death. “It is a testament to the dire conditions under which prisoners live in solitary confinement that three people would commit suicide in the last month,” said Laura Magnani, Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee, “It also points to the severe toll that the hunger strike has taken on these men, despite some apparent victories.” Prisoners in California’s SHUs and other forms of solitary confinement have a much higher rate of suicide than those in general population.

The hunger strike, which at one time involved the participation of at least 12,000 prisoners in 13 state prisons was organized around five core demands relating to ending the practices of group punishment, long-term solitarily confinement, and gang validation and debriefing. The CDCR has promised changes to the gang validation as soon as early next year and were due to have a draft of the new for review this November, although it’s not known whether that process is on schedule. “If the public and legislators don’t continue to push CDCR, they could easily sweep all of this under the rug,” said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator Californians United for a Responsible Budget, “These deaths are evidence that the idea of accountability is completely lost on California’s prison officials.”

California: Some inmates continue prison hunger strike, advocates say

By Mary Slosson

LOS ANGELES | Fri Oct 14, 2011

(Reuters) – A day after California prison officials declared a 3-week-old hunger strike by thousands of convicts over, an inmate advocacy group said on Friday that at least 150 prisoners were still refusing to eat.

The protest began at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California and spread to at least 4,000 inmates in seven other facilities at its height late last month, with prisoners demanding an end to what they called inhumane treatment.

Many of the grievances focused on the prison system’s use of solitary confinement to enforce discipline and for what inmates say is a means of coercing them to “rat out” prison gang members.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced on Thursday the hunger strike had ended after prison officials agreed to review procedures by which certain convicts are classified as too dangerous for the general inmate population.

But inmate representatives later said that as of Friday 150 convicts were continuing their protest at two prisons because conditions in which they are held remained unaddressed.

“We know that there are people still going at Calipatria (State Prison) and Salinas Valley (State Prison),” said Isaac Ontiveros, a spokesman for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. “They have been clear that they are willing to keep going at great peril to their own health.” Continue reading

Prisoners from Corcoran State Prison-SHU respond to prison official’s lies

[A careful and detailed rebuttal of the state prison officials justifications for the tortuous conditions prisoners in the Security Housing Units are subjected to — and severe repression of California prison hunger strikers.  This article is well-worth reading, and passing along. — Frontlines ed.]

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A Brief Discussion on the Reality and Impact of SHU Torture Units in the Wake of the August 23rd Legislative Hearings, From the N.C.T.T. – COR-SHU

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”  — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, 4/16/63

These sage words by Dr. King are both appropriate to the discussion we’d like to have with you on indefinite SHU confinement, and cautionary as to who we are as a society in these troubled times. This 2nd point is very relevant to this discussion and we hope you’ll stick with us as we explore subject matter that is both broad and disturbing which requires us to share some inconvenient truths.

Security Housing Units, SHUs, like those in Pelican Bay, Tehachapi, and this one here in Corcoran are torture units. They are used to indefinitely house human beings in solitary confinement, under constant illumination, based on an administrative determination that they are “gang” members or associates, with an impetus towards breaking their minds in hopes of eliciting information, coercing them into becoming informants or active agents of the state. The torture units are the living tombs of not only alleged “gang” members or associates, but political and politicized prisoners, human rights activists, critics of the prison industry, jailhouse lawyers and most anyone who in the sole determination of Institutional Gang Investigators (I.G.I.) and administrators, are not content to accept and submit passively to their role as commodities in the prison industrial complex. The United States, and many of it’s media outlets such as the ‘New York Times’ and ‘San Diego Union Tribune’, prior to the U.S. “War on Terror” routinely criticized China, Turkey, Burma, Syria, and other nations for holding prisoners in indefinite solitary confinement, under conditions of constant illumination and/or sensory deprivation, etc. for expressing contrary political views. They universally condemned the practice as torture, citing the United Nations Human Rights Commission Treaty. Their hypocrisy was of course revealed soon after the policy of U.S. sponsored torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and numerous secret C.I.A. blacksite prisons was exposed. Yet America’s dirty little secret is, state sponsored torture in the U.S. is neither new or exclusive to it’s “War on Terror”. Years before Abu Ghraib and ‘Gitmo’ they were murdering prisoners in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center, boiling men alive at Pelican Bay-SHU, and holding murderous bloodsport style bouts in Corcoran-SHU all along holding alleged “gang” members and left wing political ideologues for decades in sensory deprivation torture units at Pelican Bay, Corcoran, and Tehachapi SHUs. Yes, indefinite solitary confinement and constant illumination is being used right now in California SHU units, in conjunction with a program of systematic isolation and experimental behavior modification to torture prisoners everyday … with no end in sight. 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

California Prisoners hunger strike for human rights brings vicious threats and suppression

Round 2, Day 4: Hunger Strike Expands & Exposes ‘Perfect Storm’ in CA

As released yesterday, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity has confirmed that at least 6,000 California prisoners in jails, General Population, Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg/ASU) and Security Housing Units (SHUs) are hunger striking for the human rights of California’s SHU-status prisoners. We have confirmed prisoners are striking at Pelican Bay, Calipatria, CCI Tehachapi, Centinela, Corcoran, Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, and West Valley Detention Center.

The California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) has not released the total number of prisons, or which prisons prisoners are striking at. The CDCR withheld accurate numbers for several days after the first round of the strike in July until we pressured reporters to investigate and force the CDCR to release information. We know the CDCR is not releasing accurate numbers, and that many more prisoners are participating and supporting the strike in various ways. Continue reading

4,000 Prisoners On Hunger Strike In California

by Judy M.

Prison officials in California confirmed on Thursday, September 29, that more than 4,000 inmates have been on a hunger strike since Monday.

It’s the second time this year that inmates have refused food to protest a prison system’s use of Security Housing Units — known as “the SHU” — to control prison gangs.

They were also protesting inhumane prison policies, including a policy that allowed nearly half of Pelican Bay’s 1,111 prisoners to be held in solitary confinement for more than ten years. According to the California Department of Corrections, 78 prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for more than 20 years. Continue reading