California Prison hunger strike ends after 20 days; advocates say strike raised awareness about prison conditions

Thadeus Greenson and Kaci Poor/The Times-Standard

California prison officials and prison advocacy groups announced Thursday the end of a three-week hunger strike that saw thousands of inmates at more than a dozen institutions refuse meals.

Dorsey Nunn, a mediator between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the striking prisoners, said he spoke with Pelican Bay State Prison inmates over the phone Thursday who confirmed the news.

”The choices they were confronted with were torture or death,” Nunn said. “Those really aren’t choices. I think they chose to live to fight (for) justice another day.”

The strike began July 1 with 11 inmates in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Secure Housing Units, where suspected gang members are held in near complete isolation, sometimes for years at a time. The group issued a list of five demands — seeking better living conditions and treatment — and was quickly joined by more than 6,500 inmates in 13 institutions throughout the state who began refusing meals.

According to CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thornton, the striking inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison resumed eating state-issued food Wednesday night after a CDCR executive visited the prison and provided clarification on proposed plans to review and change policies. Changes implemented to date, according to the release, include “providing cold-weather caps, wall calendars and some educational opportunities for SHU inmates.” Continue reading

Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers Reject Proposal: The Strike Continues!

Hungerstrike News
July 17, 2011 No. 1, Day Seventeen

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Friday, July 15 – This afternoon leaders of the Pelican Bay hunger strike unanimously rejected a proposal from the CDCR to end the strike. In response to the prisoners’ five, straightforward demands, the CDCR distributed a vaguely worded document stating that it would “effect a comprehensive assessment of its existing policy and  procedure” about the secure housing units (SHUs). The document gave no indication if any changes would be made at all.

While the CDCR has claimed that there is no medical crisis, mediators report that the principal hunger strikers have lost 25-35 pounds each and have underlying medical conditions of concern. Despite the promises from the federal Receiver overseeing the CDCR, no one has received salt tablets or vitamins.

The hunger strike is now in its third week and shows no signs of weakening. In fact, the settlement document distributed last night to all hunger strikers at Pelican Bay prison, resulted in some people who have gone off the strike to resume refusing food. Hundreds of prisoners at Pelican Bay remain on strike, with thousands more participating throughout the CA’s 33 prisons. Advocates and strike leaders dismiss the false claims that the strike is being orchestrate by prison gangs.  Continue reading

California Prisoners on Hunger Strike in Isolation Units at Pelican Bay and Corcoran Prisons

[Supporters of the prisoners demonstrated on July 1st, as the prisoners launched their hunger strike at Pelican Bay and Corcoran Prisons.  The bourgeois media has limited coverage of the events, focusing on their standard methods of discrediting the struggle for justice with slanders like “they have other food, it’s not really a hunger strike” and “they complain all the time and refuse to eat often” and they are vicious hardened criminals who deserve no support or sympathy.”  Below, we post the words of one of the hunger strikers.  Frontlines ed.]

originally printed in the  San Francisco Bay View –

Hunger strikers protest perpetual solitary confinement

June 29, 2011


John Martinez

The following letter from PBSP SHU prisoner John R. Martinez is addressed to:Edmund G. Brown, Governor, State Capitol, First Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814

Matthew Cate, Secretary, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 1515 S St., Sacramento, CA 94283-0001

G.D. Lewis, Warden, PBSP, P.O. Box 7000, Crescent City, CA 95532

Re: Petition for redress; notice of hunger strike


On July 1, 2011, I and my fellow prisoners – on their own free will – will be commencing a hunger strike to protest the denial of our human rights and equality via the use of perpetual solitary confinement. The Supreme Court has referred to “solitary confinement” as one of the techniques of “physical and mental torture” that have been used by governments to coerce confessions (Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 237-238 (1940)).

In regards to PBSP-SHU, Judge Thelton E. Henderson stated that “many if not most, inmates in the SHU experience some degree of psychological trauma in reaction to their extreme social isolation and the severely restricted environmental stimulation in SHU” (Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F. Supp. 1146, 1235 (N.D. Cal. 1995)). Not surprisingly, Judge Henderson stated that “the conditions in the SHU may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate” and that sensory deprivation found in the SHU “may well hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience” (Madrid, 889 F. Supp. at 1267, 1280). Four years later, a Texas federal judge reviewed conditions in isolation of a Texas prison that mirrored those of PBSP-SHU. He correctly held:

“Before the court are levels of psychological deprivation that violate the United States Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It has been shown that defendants are deliberately indifferent to a systemic pattern of extreme social isolation and reduced environmental stimulation. These deprivations are the cause of cruel and unusual pain and suffering by inmates in administrative segregation …” (Ruiz v. Johnson, 37 F. Supp. 2d 855, 914-915 (S.D. Tex.1999)). Continue reading