Solitary Watch – “Hundreds of people held in California prisons are expected to launch their third large-scale hunger strike in two years today. The current strike, announced by leaders at Pelican Bay State Prison on February 14th, is seen as a resumption of the large-scale strikes in June and September 2011, when thousands of prisoners across the state stopped eating for days or weeks in order to press for the five demands laid out by the strike organizers.
The five demands are: an end to group punishment, reform of the current process by which individuals are deemed prison gang members, an end to long-term solitary confinement, adequate and nutritious food, and constructive programming. At the heart of the strike is California’s unique practice of indefinitely housing suspected gang affiliates in Security Housing Units (SHUs), primarily in solitary confinement until they “debrief,” or, “snitch” on fellow gang members.
The prior hunger strikes prompted two California Assembly hearings on the issue of segregation in California’s prisons, a tepid reform of gang validation procedures blasted by SHU prisoners, and a federal lawsuit challenging the gang validation process and mounting an 8th Amendment challenge against long-term solitary confinement. A CDCR attempt to get the lawsuit dismissed was denied in March, and the Los Angeles Timeshas since reported that the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) has asked to join the lawsuit in defense of the SHUs.
The epicenter of the strike is the SHU at PBSP in Crescent City, California, a super-maximum security facility opened in 1989 for the purpose of dealing with “difficult-management cases, prison gang members, and violent maximum-security inmates.” Over 1,000 people are presently held in the SHU at PBSP, and two thousand additional SHU inmates are held at Corcoran State Prison and Tehachapi State Prison, and many more are held in Administrative Segregation Units (ASU) across the state pending openings in SHU facilities.
In the small, windowless concrete cells designed to limit communication, most in the SHU are held in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades. As of 2011, California held over 500 in the SHU for over five years, and 78 for more than 20 years. Increasingly, due to overcrowding, many in the SHU now have cellmates, forced to share a cell designed for only one person.
“Like all oppressed people, prisoners confined to these torture units must not only contend with seeking ways to resist the unrelenting, daily assaults on their psyche and humanity, but must also contend with the prospect of people who have never been subjected to the inexorable psychological and physical degradation of being confined to a bathroom with 2 bunks crammed into it for 23-24 hours a day, every day, trying to define our reality,” writes a group of men held in the SHU at Corcoran State Prison, validated Black Guerilla Family members who have banded together to form the New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism Collective Think Tank (NCTT). Read more of this post
- Support striking prisoners! (dmitryev.wordpress.com)
- The horrifying existence of solitary confinement by James Simmons (claimyourinnocence.wordpress.com)
- California Prisoners Set to Hunger Strike July 8th (indybay.org)
- Oakland Noise Demo Raises Ruckus Outside of Alameda County Jail for Hunger Strikers in SHU (indybay.org)
- The Reality of Solitary Confinement in the U.S. (lockupreform.com)
- Support the Hunger Strikers, Sign the Petition! (moorbey.wordpress.com)
- Cellmate or not: Indeterminate SHU confinement is torture (lockupreform.com)
- Prison photo ban starts to lift (utsandiego.com)