California threatens prisoners over hunger strike

California authorities are threatening disciplinary measures as more than 12,000 inmates in the state's prisons have missed nine consecutive meals over three days in a hunger strike against solitary confinement. The nine-meal point is considered a critical benchmark that requires officials to recognize the action as a hunger strike. About 30,000 prisoners across the state began refusing meals on July 8 in support of supposedly "gang-affiliated" inmates being held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison. Some prisoners are also refusing to work and to attend classes. "Participating in a mass disturbance and refusing to participate in a work assignment are violations of state law, and any participating inmates will receive disciplinary action," California prison officials said in a statement. A total of 4,527 inmates at four state prisons are now in solitary confinement.

The letter from the Pelican Bay inmates who initiated the strike reads: "The principal prisoner representatives from the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement do hereby present public notice that our nonviolent peaceful protest of our subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture, via long term solitary confinement will resume today…consisting of a hunger strike/work stoppage of indefinite duration until CDCR signs a legally binding agreement meeting our demands, the heart of which mandates an end to long-term solitary confinement (as well as additional major reforms)." (Al Jazeera, July 12; Kulture Kritic, July 9)

See our last post on the struggle in California.

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  1. First death in California prison hunger strike
    Billy Michael Sell, known as “Guero,” a striking prisoner at the Corcorcan SHU, died on July 22, according to the Strike the Prisons website. He had apparently requested medical attention in recent days, but the requests went unanswered.

  2. Judge authorizes force-feeding of California inmates
    A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California granted permission on Aug. 20 for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to force-feed select inmates who are near death, even if the inmates had previously signed orders asking not to be resuscitated. California authorities went to the court for approval to force-feed some prisoners participating in a hunger strike after officials voiced concerns that inmates may have been coerced into refusing food. The hunger strike is on its forty-second day, and participants risk organ failure, disruption of all metabolic function, loss of at least 18% of initial body weight and potential death, according to California Correctional Health Care Services (CPHCS).

    From Jurist, Aug. 21. Used with permission.

  3. California prisoners end hunger strike
    California inmates ended a nearly two-month hunger strike Sept. 5 after two Democratic state legislators, Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, promised to hold public hearings this fall on abuse of solitary confinement. More than 30,000 inmates refused meals when the strike began in early July. The number had dwindled to 100, including 40 who had been on strike continuously since July 8. (Al Jazeera, Sept. 5)