July 1 Hunger Strike at Pelican Bay State Prison (2011)
Reprinted from Kersplebedeb
On July 1, 2011, between 50 and 100 prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison in the Security Housing Unit (SHU), Corridor D, are going on an indefinite hunger strike. The D corridor (also known as the “short” corridor) has the highest level of restricted incarceration in the state of California and among the most severe conditions in the united states. The rules of their confinement are extremely harsh in order to force them to “debrief” or offer up information about criminal or prison gang activity of other prisoners. Most inmates in the SHU are not members or associates of prison gangs, as the PBSP staff claims, and even those who are put their lives and the lives of their families and other prisoners at risk if they debrief.
Using conditions of severe mental and physical harm in order to force prisoners into confessing is torture! Many debriefers simply make up information about other prisoners just to escape the isolation units. This misinformation is then used to validate other prisoners as members or associates of prison gangs who in reality have nothing to do whatsoever with gang activity.
These are the five core demands of the hunger-striking prisoners:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
This widespread hunger strike has the potential to become the most significant event in California prison reform in the last decade. Public support is crucial. Outside support work will be coordinated by California Prison Focus and other groups – visit their website here!
If you are in contact with any California prisoners it is urged that you let them know that outside support groups are drafting litigation to contest the constitutional validity of certain CDCR practices inside California’s Security Housing Units. And that any prisoner having information on this subject, or who is seeking to learn more about this law suit, should use confidential legal mail to contact:
Attorney at Law
PO Box 5187
For inquiries and most up to date information, please contact California Prison Focus or visit the section of their site devoted to the hunger strike.