Inmates on hunger strike win support from California legislators

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Screen shot from video posted by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

The largest prison hunger strike in California history officially began on July 8, and though some California legislators have voiced support for state prison inmates, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) won’t cede an inch. Prisoners are in for a long battle.

Estimates indicate that over 29,000 inmates have joined ranks to refuse meals in 24 of the state’s 33 prisons and all four of the private, out-of-state facilities where California sends offenders. Additionally, thousands of inmates have declined to attend work and educational assignments since the strike commenced a week ago.

The CDCR released its own tally July 11, stating that there were only 12,421 participants. Asked about the discrepancy between numbers, CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thornton said, “we have inmates who skip a meal here and skip a meal there,” and clarifying that the estimate included only inmates who had met the CDCR’s official metric of nine consecutive missed meals up to that point. 

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who authored a 2012 senate bill aimed at increasing media access in prisons which was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, issued a statement last week “join[ing] the protesters in urging prison officials to make more progress in establishing fair and humane policies in the prisons paid for by California taxpayers. We should not be the focus of international human rights concerns.”

This hunger strike, and an earlier pair that took place in 2011, was orchestrated by the Short Corridor Collective, a group of four inmates confined to security housing units (SHUs) at Pelican Bay State Prison, a supermax facility 15 minutes south of the Oregon border.

A network of legal advisers and prisoners’ rights advocates facilitated communication between participating inmates, and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition is serving as the main conduit for information traveling from prisons to the public. The Coalition has summarized the goals of the strike in this video and mobilized support across the state. This past Saturday, July 13, several hundred activists participated in a rally at Corcoran, a California State Prison in the Central Valley.

In the Guardian last week, Toshio Meronek reported on the motivations behind the strike. The Short Corridor Collective’s five core demands include ending group punishment and long-term solitary confinement, abolishing a “debriefing policy” that encourages prisoners to exchange information about other inmates in return for favorable treatment, providing more nutritious food, and allowing for weekly phone calls and annual photographs. Inmate groups outside of Pelican Bay have documented separate sets of grievances, also published on the Solidarity Coalition’s website.

The 2011 strikes ended when the CDCR promised to create a formal “step down” process, through which SHU inmates could be vetted and prepared for reintroduction into general prison populations.

That program got underway last fall and, by all accounts, progressed slowly with limited success. In a press release issued Thursday, the CDCR disclosed that “since last October, [it] has conducted 382 case-by-case reviews of [gang] validated inmates housed indefinitely in SHUs. As of June 28, 208 inmates housed in SHUs have either been transferred or are approved for transfer to a general population facility and 115 inmates were placed in various phases of the Step-Down Program.”

At this rate, it would take nearly 20 years to conduct reviews of the over 10,000 inmates presently held in solitary confinement in California. Completion of the step down process, meanwhile, could take an additional four years for inmates enrolled in the first phase.

In a statement circulated shortly after the CDCR’s on Thursday, State Senator Mark Leno wrote, “I have concerns that this review process is moving too slowly and I would like to see it accelerated.” 

Leno stated “grave concerns about the Department’s over-reliance on the use of solitary confinement and in particular on a policy in which suspicion of gang affiliation is sufficient grounds for keeping an inmate in solitary confinement indefinitely.”

In a KALW radio interview Thursday morning, Thornton asserted that the CDCR doesn’t “negotiate with people who are trying to hold the prison system hostage. We don’t condone these types of disturbances. We will keep the lines of communication open. And we will manage the prisons as safely as possible with as little interruption to normal programming as possible.”

Also on Thursday, Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard’s confirmation was pushed through after being in limbo since Governor Brown appointed him in December 2012. Almost immediately, Beard declared all step-down reviews suspended, in what may well be the first official retaliatory action by the state against the hunger strikers.

Beard inherits not only the hunger strike, but a prison system long plagued by severe overcrowding, high recidivism rates, gross mismanagement of inmate health services, and a Supreme Court order to release close to 46,000 low-risk offenders.

“The prisoners are complaining about indeterminate solitary sentences not based on findings of misbehavior, but on alleged gang associations,” explained Rachel Meeropol, a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which filed a class action lawsuit against the state and CDCR last May alleging inhumane treatment of Pelican Bay prisoners through the use of security housing units. “California is an outlier in the number of prisoners that it holds in indeterminate solitary confinement.” In the CDCR system, inmates can spend decades in SHUs, sometimes without ever understanding what landed them there in the first place.

The hunger strikers seek a binding, written agreement from the CDCR that commits to a maximum sentence of five years in solitary confinement. Given the UN Human Rights Council’s recent judgment that “any imposition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and “should be subject to an absolute prohibition,” the Short Corridor representatives think their demand is reasonable.

In his statement last week, Ammiano indicated that he “continue[s] to be concerned about the policies being used to segregate prisoners who are deemed – often on weak public grounds – to be gang leaders.”

Donna Willmott, a member of the media committee for the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, said the vast majority of inmates in SHUs are there because they have received validation of gang affiliation from the CDCR. She described a “fundamentally flawed and corrupt” process, in which validating evidence is often scant.

“People have been sent to the SHU for indefinite terms for having Aztec art on their walls or a George Jackson book in their cells. And there’s no appeal process,” Willmott explained. “The way you get out of the SHU is parole, snitch, or die.”

Comments

starve themselves to death.

As the BART workers have just learned, you need leverage and sympathy for a strike to be successful. Incarcerated felons don;t have any.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2013 @ 9:15 pm

If this is what is really in your heart, May God have mercy on your soul. The problem with the people in this country is that we feel that we have the right to oppressive others, because they have made a mistake. Our constitution does not apply to only the flawless it also applies to the flawed. But as the article stated many of the 10,000 men or women who are in solitary are their because of the corrupt and prideful decision of the CDCR. As a human you better be careful of disgarding those who you deem "Undiserable" because the freedoms they take away from them can easily be taken away from you.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2013 @ 7:25 am

but I sleep better at night expending my compassion for the victims of crime and those who protect and serve us, and not for the perpetrators of crime and their apologists.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2013 @ 8:18 am

God, whose love and mercy cause him to commiserate with the downtrodden, sympathizes with the sufferings of prisoners, and so the Bible speaks often, and with compassion, of those in prison. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated.
For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. He loves each of us.
We are to reflect Jesus to others by our words and kindness each day. To say words of hate is not of God. I pray the best outcome in this hunger strike for the inmates and families plus pray for hearts and minds in the California Correctional System to be open in settling this issue.
In Christ,
Faith

Posted by Guest Faith on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

Because these people are human beings, idiot! they are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters - and at least 40% of minority inmates have been either wrongfully accused or charged stiff penalties for minor crimes than there anglo-saxon counterparts -- and shouldn't be in there in the first place.

The kicker is that the people who most feel inmates don't deserve to live humanly, are the same God-fearing individuals who swear that only God can judge. Do these people believe in forgiveness, or are they hypocrites? If you ask me, I'd say the 'animals' are on the outside.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 11:01 am

Concur.

"Let the fools have their tartar sauce." - Montgomery Burns

(Er, lack thereof.)

If they want to starve themselves, so be it. If anything, all such felons should have to perform manual labor (e.g., cleaning up CA beaches) in order to actually "repay" their debt to society and inculcate a healthy appreciation for work in order to assimilate into society.

-drudown

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2013 @ 6:23 am

in the can. But yes, put them to work to repay their debt. And if they want to save the taxpayers some money by starving themselves to death, this voter will not shed a tear.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2013 @ 7:15 am

These rapists and killers have a great life in prison. I would invite the the great people of this state to come and tour your prison to see what kind of life these prisoners live. They spend their time playing soccer, basketball, softball, tanning, jogging, laying in their bunk watching movies, visiting with friends and all kinds of other stuff that would make a hard working citizen of this great state mad.

Posted by Juan on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 7:48 am

Jason Grant Garza ... I would like thank for the above article and bring forward some VERY IMPORTANT issues. I too have had MEDICAL CARE, POLICE SERVICES, ADA SERVICES not be. What do I mean ...

A good start would be to show you an article and what the city did before ... http://www.sfbg.com/2007/06/27/crazy and then show you a signed confession where the city broke the MEDICAL law, left me for dead and now the process has started all over again ... http://myownprivateguantanamo.com/settle1.html and for more background read http://myownprivateguantanamo.com . ( Documented MEDICAL LAWBREAKING - in case you don't believe it is TRUE)

Now go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cP3jCmJFRo to see the CRIMINAL FRAUD or the sheriff's "CUP OF POISON" on 11/27/12 (see all six videos) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xax7ksytpu4 and then go to DPH http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFd-KtS8Zss or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa7kfWNt4aQ or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCuMwXVxADk (where I was BRUTALLY ASSAULTED by the sheriff's deputy.) Then you can watch other videos for the FAILURES of SFPD, OCC, MOD, Sheriff and Chief of Police and Police Commission.

So as to further illustrate my point ... NO ENFORCEMENT of MEDICAL LAW even in PRISON and what the agencies responsible (for the malpractice - both legal and medical) are trying to SPIN as far as a fix and HOW LONG NOW? Then, look at what I am subjected to ... if you look at the above videos on youtube ... neither the POLICE nor SHERIFF ENFORCE medical law violations ... so here is ANOTHER CORRUPT METHODOLOGY and please note all the access and accommodation to escalate to the highest level in order to CORRECT. None from the SF Police Department, NONE from the Sheriff's Office, NONE from the Office of Citizen's Complaints, NONE from the Human Rights Commission, NONE from the Mayor's Office on Disabilities, NONE from the Police Commission. So where is the HUMANITY ???? I can show you WHAT as the PRISONERS can ... what HAPPENS with NO MEDICAL LAW ENFORCEMENT ...

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jul. 16, 2013 @ 6:56 am

If only the hard working people of this state knew how well these prisoners have it in the prisons of California. Most of these prisoners are in prison for a reason, lets not forgot. I would invite all the the great people of California to tour a prison and see for yourself how good theses prisoners live. Remember these prisoner are in the shu because they refuse to follow the rules of this great country. We did not put a gun in their hands or forced them to rape innocent victims. Lets not forget the the millions of victims, where are their rights.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 7:37 am
Posted by anon on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 7:53 am

Once again we have people making comments in the media who have no clue about what is going on in the prison system. I know first hand what happens and believe me prisoners have it good, much better than what is should be.

First lets touch on the HUNGER STRIKE. Most inmates are forced by their gang leaders to go along with this strike. If gang members don't participate in this action they will be dealt with later by other gang members for not following orders.

Next lets talk about the SHU. The inmates who are placed in these units are the really really bad guys. If they were not in this type of placement they would be committing more crimes than what they already are doing from the SHU. These guys are still running million dollar a year drug businesses from the SHU and ordering "HITS" on people who have wronged them or stand in their way and it would be worse if we didn't have the SHU. Even former Gang leaders will tell you that the SHU is the only way to slow down Gang Crime (read the book, THE BLACK HAND, which tells the story of one of the Mexican Mafia's former leaders

The food in prison is no different than what our children are getting in the schools or at summer camps. They get chicken, fish, pasta, beef, veggies, fruits (which they try to sneak out to make PRUNO (inmate manufactured alcohol).

The medical they receive is better than people on the outside can receive. When they need a surgery or emergency medicine they are taken out to the local hospitals while minor items are treated at the prison facilities. When people on the outside have to wait 3 to 4 weeks to get an appointment to see their doctor, inmates are seen in a manner of days.

So to those of you in Sacramento who are siding with these inmates and making comments, you have no idea of what you are talking about.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 9:30 am

I'm a women and I know first hand about the SHU. Now some inmates do deserve to be segregated thank god for the SHU but a lot of inmates do not. People say rapists and killers most of them are not even in the SHU. What gets you in the SHU is if CDC determines you are or associated with a prison gang then that's where you will be placed. How do they determine this? From drawings or tattoos they feel have hidden meanings which I feel is petty or for instance if CDC feels you could possibly be a good candidate to place in the SHU to try and get information for them without you even doing anything bad that's where you will go even for 15yrs now Is that humane this is a true story read about it http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R201307110850/a Tino Aguilar.
Now this is a happy ending for Tino but look at how many wasted years went by and in the SHU and for what. Too many men are in the SHU today for decades for reasons like this or similar. Isn't it that the worst of the worst belong there? Yes but that's not how it really goes down in these prisons. Something needs to be done someone needs to be a voice for those men that don't deserve to be there being tortured and for so many years its true the only way out of the SHU is if you parole, you snitch or you die. So sad!!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 2:22 am

I'm a woman and I have enough knowledge about the SHU to speak on it.Now don't get me wrong theirs a lot of inmates that deserve to be in the SHU but at the same time theirs a lot that don't. Now how does one land there its not because your a rapist or a killer because most of them are either in the PC unit or still in General Population. What gets you in the SHU is if the CDC decides or validates that you are or you associate with a prison gang. How do they decide that? You may have pictures, tattoos, drawings or letters with no kind of connection with a prison gang but to them they may see things differently. So if the CDC feels that there's hidden messages or meanings in any of these items then guess what your going to the SHU now the only way out of here is either you parole you snitch or you die. Perfect example listen to this story about Tino Aguilar - http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R201307110850/a
Wasted years and this is just one out of thousands of stories being told or given that opportunity to see freedom. All I can say is some of these men need a voice to speak for them and hopefully the men that deserve freedom get that change keep your head up and have faith.

Posted by Bee Medina on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 3:01 am

there is truth in some of what you claim (medical treatment, food) however to say those held in the SHU are really, really bad people-- not all. Most people who are against what the SHU represents are against it for those held in the SHU for bs allegations and corrupt Co's who put them there. every system is flawed, but when you send people to the SHU on false information then that process deserves a second look.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 10:13 pm

To alll you Liberals who feel sorry for these shmucks, let one of them rape or hurt a family member and we will see if you still feel sorry for them! These guys have it made in prison trust me they are not suffering they live better then most people do on the streets!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 9:37 am

support for those who make our lives worse (felons, the homeless, parasites, welfare recipients, losers) then they do for those who add value and create prosperity.

Posted by anon on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 10:25 am

I wonder if their victims can sleep at night as well as these dirt bags. They violated another person and deserve to suffer

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 10:35 am
Posted by anon on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 10:57 am

The SHU is reserved for persons deemed influential gang leaders.

The four-member Short Order Collective has several murders and dozens of stabbings between them, not counting crimes committed by their subordinates.

Todd Ashker, C-58191, D1-119
Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, D1-121
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671, D1-117
Antonio Guillen, P-81948, D2-106

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 11:01 am

God, whose love and mercy cause him to commiserate with the downtrodden, sympathizes with the sufferings of prisoners, and so the Bible speaks often, and with compassion, of those in prison. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated.
For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. He loves each of us.
We are to reflect Jesus to others by our words and kindness each day. To say words of hate is not of God. I pray the best outcome in this hunger strike for the inmates and families plus pray for hearts and minds in the California Correctional System to be open in settling this issue.
In Christ,
Faith

Posted by Guest Faith on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

Who gets free contact lens, killers and rapists in the shu!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

Any prisoner that gets a head injury no matter hoe small or big is sent to an outside hospital immediately in a ambulance.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

Don't just pick and choose parts of the Bible that fit your need, God also hates sin and as such destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

Prisoner's are not mistreated in California, no one beats them, nor are they starved. Inmates in the SHU are there because they refused to function properly on the GP yards. They are given every chance in the world to renounce their gang, but they choose not to.

God forgives those who ask for forgiveness and these inmates who are in the SHU serve SATAN not GOD! Just as God asks you to repent, so does the CDCR and all you have to do is renounce your gang.

The hunger strike has nothing to do with prison conditions, it has to do with the prison gangs wanting more control of the prison system.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

This is how bad the medical service is in the prison, a prisoner couldn't go to the restroom so the prison sent him code blue to Bakersfield. When the prisoner got to Bakersfield he went to the restroom. The hospital sent him back. He was just constipated. These murders have to say only two words to get medical service immediately, "chest pains." When prisoners say these words everything must be stop and medical attention is given.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

What the media is NOT telling you is that this is total BS!! They have BOXES and BOXES of canteen (food) stockpiled in their cells. They are not going hungry AT ALL!! It's all to get attention. The strike ended days ago. Anything to sell papers. They only report what they want you to know.

Report the facts!!

Signed,

First hand knowledge.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

People the inmates have better medical coverage than our vets!! MRI needed? You and I will wait for weeks. They wait literally minutes. Brand name medicine BY LAW. Free ambulance ride day or night. Sent one out one night for ATHLETES FEET!! Lights and siren!! He had the condition for months!! CDCR will fix Em right up and put back on the streets early so they can rob, rape and violate YOUR RIGHTS but gosh don't let them want for anything!! Sad society we've become. No wonder why were just shooting them now. No other justice left. Bleeding heart liberal judges gotta go.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

Where is the the medical care and the food for the millions of homeless people. Who feeds these people. I don't see these liberals crying and begging for justice for the homeless. Oh yea there is no money to be made from the homeless. Same goes for the judges who care only about having more cases so the can get more power.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 6:43 am

I pray for all those people who have never experienced the SHU or have a loved one in the SHU that there never comes a time that you or someone you love get thrown into that hell hole!It amazes me to know that there is a lot of hate for these prisoners., they are humans and have made mistakes lije we all have but that doesnt mean that CD can continue to torture and dehumanize them! All ther asking for is the same privelages other prisoners already have ther not asking to be released from prison! I pray for these men and women who have been tortured for years that ther voice be heard!!!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2013 @ 10:05 am

I understand this prisoner its fustrating not getting justice my fiance is at pleasant valley state prison upon arriving their was a officer who harrassed us using foul language and disrespected me and my fiancee I knew my right had her written up BIG mistake it only created problems to us they manage to cancel my visit for a second time when about to get my visits back she falsely accused my fiancee on a bogus charge omly to claim the same charge on anothet inmate 3 days later too my fiancee and this inmate got sentence 28 month with no proof even thou they did had all the proof that its the officers who bring in the illegal cellphone alone with other thing I am dtill fightin my fiancee sentence was lower to 10 month again retaliation they took away my visits.. I thought I only see this in movies but no its in real life.,. I wish I knew what else to do this is injustice...

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2013 @ 10:35 am

It's funny how some of the posters on this site just do not take the time to educate themselves. The SHU exists to protect the rest of the prison population and the prison staff.

Those in the SHU are not there because they have "Aztec art on their walls." They're in there because they are violent gang members who have assaulted other prisoners and staff.

The proof in this is shown by the thousands of gang members in prison who are not housed in the SHU. The thousands who are still on the mainline.

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