California Prison Hunger Strike

[caption id="attachment_783" align="alignleft" width="396" caption="Poster by artist Rini Templeton. Design by"]pelican_bay_strike_poster[/caption] Prisoners in a third of California prisons have been on a hunger strike to protest solitary confinement rules and other inhumane treatment.  The protest began on July 1 when prisoners in the Pelican Bay Secured Housing Unit (SHU) began refusing meals. The protesting prisoners grew in number to include other institutions, apparently becoming most active in Pelican Bay, Corcoran State Prison, and the California Correctional Institute at Tehachapi. There are upwards of 6,000 people on strike (numbers vary according to different media reports). At least 2,000 are on medical watch. Unfortunately, the state’s Department of Corrections has denied journalists access to the striking prisoners, undermining the free flow of information to really know what’s going on. One official statement claimed gang leaders were behind the strike—SHUs were created to undermine and stop prison gang violence on various yards and cellblocks by targeting so-called “shot callers.” But this statement doesn’t address the confinement in the various SHUs that isolate prisoners behind tiny cells for around 23 hours a day, with only one hour a day allowed in a small area with high concrete walls. This doesn’t explain the growing number of prisoners in general population also taking part. California has increased its prison population from 15,000 in fifteen prisons during the early 1970s to around 160,000 in thirty-three prisons today (there are also several thousand prisoners shipped outside the state to private institutions). While state officials largely separated prisoners by race and so-called prison gangs, in three decades street gang violence, drug sales, and crime has escalated throughout the state, but also across the country. The number one gang problem in the United States is the growing number of California-based gangs, particularly from Los Angeles, that have now taken hold in almost every state in the union. In three decades gang associations like Crips and Bloods, Surenos and Nortenos, 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha as well as Hell’s Angels and other Bikers, Skinheads and Aryans, among others, have spread exponentially. In twenty years this has become global when California gangs, largely through massive deportations, became scattered throughout Mexico, Central America, and places like Cambodia and Armenia. In effect, this policy of isolation, inhumanity, and more cellblocks hasn’t reduced crime or gang violence—it has only made things worse and penetrated international borders. I support the main demands of the striking prisoners and ask that others do so as well. Most prisoners are incarcerated from drug-related charges in a war on drugs that has not stopped drugs yet continues to siphon billions of our tax dollars. There is also a 70 percent return rate for most parolees, who often lack job and life skills to pull themselves out of the crime-and-drug matrix that now covers most poor areas. The fact is the present overcrowded and inhumane treatment of California prisoners—including with three-strikes-and-you’re-out sentencing, trying juveniles as adults, and so-called gang enhancements—has only made our lives more dangerous, not less. The California prison system is in need of fundamental and humane transformation. The striking prisoners’ nonviolent protest demonstrates this is a serious and long-range thinking action. We need to heed the voices against any injustices, regardless of where they come from. These prisoners are often our fathers, sons, brothers, sisters, mothers, daughters, and neighbors. c/s [NOTE: You can download a free copy of Rini Templeton's Prisoner Solidarity Poster by clicking here.]

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