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.”

Why prisons and prisoners must matter to the Occupy movement

[The following, from an article by Michael Novick, addressed to the Occupy Wall Street movement and Occupy LA, draws connections between the California prison movement’s struggle for human rights and the Occupy movement. — Frontlines ed.]

by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-LA

Prisons and the millions who are imprisoned are a critical issue in this society for the 1 percent and for the 99 percent. They must be a vital area of concern for the Occupy Wall Street movement and especially here in Occupy LA. Here’s why:

Social control

Dostoyevsky said that you can best understand a society by looking inside its prisons. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We have 5 percent of the global population and 25 percent of all the prisoners.

Prisons expose the brutal violence at the base of social control, the iron fist hidden by the velvet glove of elections and by the weapons of mass distraction. After the mass rebellions of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the 1 percent made a conscious decision to de-industrialize the U.S. and drive poor people from the inner city to the outskirts of the cities, as in Latin America and Africa, or into the concentration camps.

Prison populations shot up from under 200,000 to over 2,600,000 and still rising. Millions more are in and out of jail or under custodial control by the parole and probation systems. This has resulted in painful and massive destabilization of communities, especially communities of color, and affected millions more in families disrupted by having members imprisoned and moved far away. Continue reading

Support grows for Palestinian’s prison strike

10 Oct 2011

Activists start open-ended hunger strike in support of prisoners in Israel fasting against “worsening jail conditions”.

At least 60 activists in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and Israel have started an open-ended hunger strike in support of Palestinians already fasting in Israeli jails against allegedly worsening conditions.A solidarity camp by youth was launched in the Israeli city of Haifa on Sunday in a “spontaneous response” to the detainees’ strike that was declared two weeks ago, organisers said.

“We mainly have two reasons: to support the prisoners and raise their morale [in continuing their hunger strike] and to raise awareness of the Palestinian political detainees,” Muhannad Abu-Gosh, an organiser of the Haifa camp, told Al Jazeera.

Some 50 Palestinian political prisoners began a ongoing hunger strike on September 27. Other prisoners have since joined in. As of Sunday, 234 inmates were fasting, Sivan Weizman, the spokeswoman for the Israeli Prison Service, said in a statement. Continue reading