Monday, July 04, 2011

Solidarity Builds With Pelican Bay Prisoners' Hunger Strike in California



CPF is a member of Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity, a coalition of grassroots groups to support the prisoners

Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (California) began an indefinite hunger strike on July 1, 2011 to protest the cruel and inhumane conditions of their imprisonment. The hunger strike was organized by prisoners in an unusual show of racial unity. The prisoners developed five core demands.

California Prison Focus supports these prisoners and their very reasonable demands, and calls on Governor Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate, and Pelican Bay State Prison Warden Greg Lewis to implement these changes. California Prison Focus is a member of "Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity," a coalition of grassroots human rights activist groups in the Bay Area supporting the demands of the prisoners participating in the hunger strike.

Briefly, the five core demands of the prisoners are:

1. Eliminate group punishments. Instead, practice individual accountability. When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race. This policy has been applied to keep prisoners in the SHU indefinitely and to make conditions increasingly harsh.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. Prisoners are accused of being active or inactive participants of prison gangs using false or highly dubious evidence, and are then sent to longterm isolation (SHU). They can escape these tortuous conditions only if they "debrief," that is, provide information on gang activity. Debriefing produces false information (wrongly landing other prisoners in SHU, in an endless cycle) and can endanger the lives of debriefing prisoners and their families.

3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement. This bipartisan commission specifically recommended to "make segregation a last resort" and "end conditions of isolation." Yet as of May 18, 2011, California kept 3,259 prisoners in SHUs and hundreds more in Administrative Segregation waiting for a SHU cell to open up. Some prisoners have been kept in isolation for more than thirty years.

4. Provide adequate food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food that do not conform to prison regulations. There is no accountability or independent quality control of meals.

5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates. The hunger strikers are pressing for opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities..." Currently these opportunities are routinely denied, even if the prisoners want to pay for correspondence courses themselves. Examples of privileges the prisoners want are: one phone call per week, and permission to have sweatsuits and watch caps. (Often warm clothing is denied, though the cells and exercise cage can be bitterly cold.) All of the privileges mentioned in the demands are already allowed at other SuperMax prisons (in the federal prison system and other states).

Hunger Strike Grows and CDCR Lies about Numbers

Posted on July 3, 2011
by prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity

The Pelican Bay Hunger Strike is clearly starting strong as more units in Pelican Bay and other prisons are joining.

On the first day, 43 food trays were refused (out of 52) in Pod D1 of Pelican Bay SHU. The nine prisoners who have not refused to eat are much older and already have serious health concerns. The prisoners also said that other units had similar numbers of nearly 100% participation.

On the second day of the hunger strike, the action spreads throughout Pelican Bay SHU into General Population (GP).

The strike has also spread to Corcoran and Folsom State Prisons, where more than 100 prisoners have joined the hunger strike in solidarity with the demands at Pelican Bay.

After releasing the “4th of July Menu” to persuade prisoners from striking, the CDCR has told the LA Times that less than 24 prisoners are on strike, which is simply untrue.

One prisoner informed us: “In Tehachapi SHU in 2007 me and six other guys did a hunger strike. Staff flipped out. When we went to the yard they placed lunches in our cells and photographed it. They rigged scales between weigh-ins. And they used my medical, chronic-care issues to say that not eating was akin to “suicidal behavior” and placed me on suicide watch.” [Suicide watch involves isolation and deprivation--and can be used as a method of punishment.]

These tactics demonstrate the CDCR is scared that this hunger strike is powerful and growing, and is not taking the prisoners demands seriously.

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