Aug 5, 2013
Thousands of California prisoners are participating in a hunger strike and refusing to work to protest against solitary confinement and other inhumane conditions. This is the third time California prisoners have done so, following two such strikes in 2011.
The hunger strike has wide support, with an estimated 30,000 of the state’s roughly 120,000 prisoners taking part when the strike began on June 8. By July 11, more than 12,000 had skipped at least nine consecutive meals, prison officials’ definition of a hunger strike. As of July 18, more than 2,000 were still participating, according to inmates’ lawyers and relatives, despite severe retaliation by prison officials and guards.
The prisoners are again demanding an end to arbitrarily being assigned to “Special Housing Units” (SHUs) despite no charges being filed against them. SHUs are small windowless, soundproof cells in which prisoners are kept for over 22 hours per day. They can leave their cells only for a lonely 90-minute break in barren exercise pens. They can rarely see or talk to other human beings and have very limited access to visitors. They eat their meals in their cells, have nothing to do to fill their time and no means to actually get out of these barbarous conditions.
Many are kept in isolation for years. At the “supermax” Pelican Bay, the average length in isolation for the prison’s 1,111 inmates is 6.8 years, state prison officials said in 2011. Some have been isolated for more than 20 years.
Such isolation degrades the human mind and body. It is nothing but torture – inflicted on inmates by prison officials.
After the 2011 strikes, California prison officials promised changes, but prisoners’ advocates say nothing has changed. Statewide, the number of prisoners in SHUs has actually increased by 15% in the past year to 4,257, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Prison officials are responding to the current strike by retaliating against the strikers. They moved 14 leaders from SHUs to “administrative segregation,” an even more complete form of isolation. They are blasting cold air into prisoners’ cells, confiscating confidential legal documents, and in one case, banned a lawyer who was a member of the mediation team, Marilyn McMahon, from state jails.
Crime, which put many of the hunger strikers in prison, is the inevitable outcome of a capitalist system unable to provide a decent life to all its members. The conditions that exist inside these prisons simply mirror the viciousness of the capitalist system magnified a hundred times. And California prison officials continue to demonstrate the emptiness of their “promises,” exactly what one would expect from people who impose torture on a daily basis. Stop the torture of prisoners!