Thousands of California Prisoners On Hunger Strike

by on July 11, 2011 · 10 comments

in California, Civil Rights, Popular

California admits 6600 Inmates on hunger strike.

Thousands of California Inmates Show Solidarity with Isolation Ward Hunger Strike

By Bryan Gerhart / The Indypendent / July 11, 2011

What began as a hunger strike among inmates of the isolation wing of California’s Pelican Bay prison has turned into a statewide display of solidarity. A number of prisoners in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, California’s highest-security complex, refused their state-provided morning meal on Friday to protest the inhumane conditions of their confinement. Inmates in the Security Housing Unit spend 23 hours per day in soundproofed, windowless cells. Their daily hour of exercise is walking around a small, walled space. The intent is to keep prison-gang members and those considered dangerous to others separated from fellow inmates.

Despite original claims  by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that the hunger strike was limited to fewer than two dozen Pelican Bay inmates, spokesperson Terry Thornton said yesterday that the weekend had seen a peak of 6,600 protesters.  According to Thornton, there are currently around 2,100 prisoners declining meals. Thirteen of California’s 33 penal facilities have counted protesters among their inmate populations and it appears that the sentiment of solidarity is spreading beyond state borders. On Friday, a number of those incarcerated at Ohio State Penitentiary refused their food trays for a full 24 hours.

Molly Porzig, spokesperson for Critical Resistance  an organization dedicated to developing alternatives to incarceration, highlighted the significance of the strike’s timing. “California has been ordered by the Supreme Court to release prisoners due to the neglect and overcrowding in the state’s prisons. They recognize that the conditions of California’s prisons are absolutely atrocious.” Additionally, Porzig pointed to the state’s recent budget, which includes $140 million in overtime for guards, especially those in SHUs.

“California is demonstrating that it prioritizes prisons over education, parks, health care, keeping our libraries’ doors open and other things that our communities need.”

The strikers’ demands include better food, warmer clothing and a phone call each month. They also hope to end the unit’s debriefing policy, which allows inmates to leave the unit in exchange for information about the actions of other gang members and prisoners.

“Its an incredibly dangerous system for prisoners and their families because of retaliation,” said Porzig. “On the other end, all someone needs to do is point a finger at you and you’re in SHU indefinitely.”

Security Housing Units, like the one in Pelican Bay, were created in the 1960s to repress political organizing, especially among prisoners of color. For years, the conditions of SHUs have routinely been the target of human rights organizations. Critics call the units “prisons within prisons,” and on top of the controversial conditions, its an administrative decision that puts an inmate in solitary confinement. Guards, not judges or juries, make the call. Ending up in a Security Housing Unit can also effect a prisoner’s sentencing. Time spent in an SHU can’t be counted as “good” time, and Molly Porzig points out that it’s essentially an unwritten rule that ending up in isolation prevents an inmate from getting parole hearings.

“It’s not just Pelican Bay,” Porzig added. “The prisoners in California are showing solidarity, not participating in separate hunger strikes. It really shows that across the state, prisoners are in similar conditions.”

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Radical Uterus July 11, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Is the a prison riot in the near future? I know when I get hungry I get cranky.


Allen Lewis July 11, 2011 at 4:23 pm

If we gave amnesty to the people doing time for victimless crimes we wouldn’t have this happening, that way we would have plenty of room for the real criminals. O yes the cost would go way down also.


doug July 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm

i agree,but i must point out that the cost would increase if you back filled those vacant cells with all the politicians that should be locked up………free health care is on it’s way……….yipppppppppy…..yeaaaaaaaaahawwwwwwww…………….


Allen Lewis July 11, 2011 at 5:13 pm

You know back in the 60’s growing up in OB, and protesting about our government I figured it was just a matter of time before all the prick politicians of the time would retire and my generation would inherit the land, I for got one thing “THEY BREED TOO”. I would like to know why nobody talks of a flat tax for every one.


tj July 11, 2011 at 7:48 pm


And no mention of it in the “main stream” media that I’ve seen.


Frank Gormlie July 11, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Nothing today in either the San Diego U-T or the LA Times. The U-T did run something on July 6th.


mr.rick July 12, 2011 at 4:33 am

Every since prop. 13 the whole shebang has been going down hill. Then, term limits and the vote needed to raise a tax. The three strike debacle. When the voters decided they wanted to pay less taxes, what did they expect to happen. Eventually if you are a regular in the CDC you will be in danger if you do go to the chow hall. By yhe way,wonderful photo.


tj July 12, 2011 at 8:32 am

Brilliant – taxing seniors & others on limited incomes out of their homes (& even puting them out on the street in some cases) because of the fiscal irresponsibility of our politicians, greed of our bureaucrats, & self-serving nature of special interests, is a good solution?

Long live Prop 13!

It establishes a fair property tax rate based on the purchase price one willingly paid – & even allows for annual COLA increases – is that too fair for you?


john July 12, 2011 at 9:05 am

This is a very multifaceted issue, first off the ugly reality facing the future of the Republicans’ failed war on drugs/get tough on crime policies in light of gov’t budgets at the breaking point. People voted in legislators who promised to get tough on crime, and they enacted three strikes for some pretty trivial crimes, all the while cutting mental health programs AND transforming rehabilitation minded prisons into human warehouses. While all that is going on information access available to the common prospective employer improved to the point where background checks are always done, all the time- very difficult for felons or even those with serious misdemeanors to get employed unless they have an “in”.
What did those “get tough on crime” people think, that you could lock everyone up for good and that was a viable plan?
The flip side of all that is c’mon now, this is Pelican Bay, which is where they’ve always sent the worst of the worst in the state penal system. I don’t know how bad you have to be to get lockdown status there, but we surely aren’t talking about shoplifters and pot dealers and since it’s a lot more costly for the state to “warehouse” people in such manners than it is to have them in general population in medium to low security facilities, the insinuation that these people are in 23 hr. lockdown at the highest security facility in the state out of random whim or mistake is pretty far fetched, don’t you think? The state’s been looking high and low at any way they can to slash costs, it’s no secret letting out nonviolent offenders has been one option they’ve used.
So if they’re looking for sympathy for Pelican Bay’s hardcore, they’re probably not going to get alot from the public on this. However what the public SHOULD be doing is taking a hard look at the whole philosophy of how we’re approaching the penitentiary aspect of our justice system before it really starts to bite society on the ass.
Prisons are not a substitute for mental health care. They should not be to warehouse humans because get tough on crime voters don’t want to have them around, they should bring back the idea of rehabilitation and instead of looking for excuses to give people three strikes and down a hole for good, they should be looking at programs which reward them with early release if they pursue education and vocational opportunities.
Finally they need to remove the privatization component of prisons nationwide. Nobody needs to profit off throwing people down a hole and losing the key.
Sorry about the rant. I had a friend, who used to live in OB, who, after 18 mos in state for his second nonviolent drug offense, was released about 4 years ago. Three days after release, Scott walked around a lowered crossing gate at the Old Town transit center and right in front of the morning Amtrak Surfliner speeding through, and was killed instantly. Nobody knows for sure, but we think he’d gotten high and knew he was sure he’d go back to prison for good. They released him with no real job prospects, nowhere to go, but if he peed dirty it was back to the can.
Our justice system is a failure.


Radical Uterus July 12, 2011 at 9:48 am

John, you summed up my thoughts on this issue with such eloquence I was inspired to respond and support your amazing grasp of the problem we face. I hope we can defeat the forces aligned against all good people who would try to do their best if they didn’t run into so many walls. The walls are so great that when our citizens leave prison they never really leave the prison.


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