The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) reports that as of July 8, at least 6,600 prisoners in at least 11 of the state’s 33 prisons have joined the hunger strike initiated by some 400 inmates at the Pelican Bay facility on July 1. With large numbers of inmates striking at Corcoran, Folsom, Tehachapi, Centinela, Calpatria and San Quentin state prisons, advocates and lawyers working to support the strike claim the number is much higher, and are pressing the CDCR to enter into negotiations with prisoners at Pelican Bay and immediately implement their demands. The demands outlined by hunger strike leaders in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay Prison include an end to long-term confinement and collective punishment, and an end to the practice of “debriefing,” or requiring prisoners to divulge information about themselves and other prisoner in order to be released back into general population.
Inmates in California prisons’ Security Housing Units (SHUs) stay in their cells 23 hours a day, allowed only one hour in a small cement exercise yard with high walls. They shower once every three days. They are allowed no phone calls, and can see visitors through a glass wall during a few weekend hours. “They are protesting conditions that they say are torturous and inhumane,” said Molly Porzig of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition in Oakland. “They feel the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will not make any meaningful or long-term change until they start dying, and they’re willing to take it there.” (KPCC, Pasadena, July 11; San Francisco Bay View, July 10; San Francisco Chronicle, July 8; LAT, July 6)
“Noise demonstrations” in solidarity with the California hunger strikers have been held outside jails and prisons in cities including Oakland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York, and Montreal. In a July 11 rally outside the Metropolitan Correction Center in lower Manhattan, demonstrators chanted “You are not alone,” and “Attica, Attica, Attica.” Prisoners flickered the lights in their cells on and off throughout the building, banged on windows, and waved and pumped their fists. (Bay View, July 12; Anti-Racist Action, July 11)
The hunger strike comes weeks after the US Supreme Court ordered the state of California to relieve overcrowding in its prison system.