San Francisco, CA, United States (4E) – The remaining 100 hunger striking prisoners in California’s state prisons resumed eating Thursday ending a two-month protest against solitary confinement that saw as much as 30,000 inmates across the state refusing meals.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Jeff Beard said the hunger strike started by inmates at Pelican Bay in Del Norte County on July 8 was called off after state legislators agreed to hold hearings on prison conditions.
“We are pleased this dangerous strike has been called off before any inmates became seriously ill,” Beard said. “CDCR will continue to implement the substantive reforms in California’s Security Housing Units that we initiated two years ago.”
The hunger strikers demanded improved prison condition and an end to long solitary confinement of prison gang leaders in security housing units (SHU). They also filed a federal suit to press for their demands.
There is an estimated 3,800 prisoners in California confined in SHUs, with some in isolated for more than two decades. In Pelican Bay, there are 1,000 prisoners in solitary confinement.
The inmates’ lawyer, Anne Weills, said state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) announced last week that they will hold hearings starting in October to address the prisoners’ complaints. The two legislators asked the inmates to end to the hunger strike so that energy and attention can be focused on the issues that have been raised.
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) spokeswoman Dana Simas said no prisoner was forced fed during the hunger strike. No striker was also seriously harmed from their action.
Earlier, prison officials tried to appease the strikers by releasing hundreds of SHU inmates to the general prison population. DCR officials also called 14 inmates at Pelican Bay to mediate and started meeting inmates to hear their concerns.
The hunger strike was supported by a group of inmates’ families, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS). The group campaigned online for prison reforms and urged Gov. Jerry Brown to act.
PHSS quoted Hancock, chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, as saying, “Solitary confinement has been recognized internationally and by other states to be an extreme form of punishment that leads to mental illness if used for prolonged periods of time. Since many of these inmates will eventually have served their sentences and will be released, it is in all our best interest to offer hope of rehabilitation while they are incarcerated – not further deterioration.”
Ammiano, chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, said, “We know these prisoners have committed crimes, but I have to repeat: It does not justify the way the state is treating them in the name of all Californians. We want California to be a leader in effective and enlightened corrections and true rehabilitation.”