The California prison hunger strike, which began on July 8 in the Pelican Bay State Prison’s secure isolation unit, is now entering its 50th consecutive day. One striker has already died, and several more have been hospitalized. The prisoners are protesting poor treatment in the penal system, including overcrowding, disregard for their rights by the prison administration, and brutal extended solitary confinement in dreaded facilities like Pelican Bay’s Secure Housing Unit (SHU). Nevertheless, with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the office of Governor Jerry Brown (D) refusing to engage with the inmates over their demands, the hunger strike continues.
Now, it seems like the CDCR is resorting to extreme measures to put down the inmates’ struggle and resume business as usual. Instead, they should accept that the situation in prisons like Pelican Bay has gone critical and immediately move to negotiate with the inmates and end long-term solitary confinement practices in their facilities.
This week a California state judge ordered that the CDCR can now begin force-feeding hunger-striking inmates, just like the U.S. Army does in Guantanamo Bay. If you aren’t familiar with what the practice entails, it involves the insertion of a nasal-gastric tube to pump liquid food into the inmates. Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. Mos Def) graphically demonstrated the severe physiological and psychological trauma this process causes in a short video released by the Guardian last month:
By resorting to further torture, rather than sitting down for mediation with the inmates (as was ordered by the California Supreme Court last year), the CDCR and Governor Brown are demonstrating their utter disregard for human rights and the rule of law. The prisoners’ unmet demands are simple, and they are open to negotiation:
- 1. Eliminate group punishments for individual rules violations.
- 2. Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
- 3. Comply with the recommendations of the 2006 US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.
- 4. Provide adequate food.
- 5. Provide and expand constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.
International opinion is lined up against the United States and the state of California when it comes to the use of solitary confinement. On Friday, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez urged that the United States stop the practice of extended solitary confinement in American prisons. Specifically citing the conditions in Pelican Bay, Méndez stated that he is “extremely worried about [solitary confinement population] numbers and in particular about the approximately 4,000 prisoners in California who are held in Security Housing Units for indefinite periods or periods of many years, often decades.” Méndez went on to describe forced feeding as “physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike,” and that the CDCR’s actions were “not acceptable” … //
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(Alex Cline is a media educator and activist around criminal justice issues in New Orleans, Louisiana).
Meet the Activists Who Just Humiliated Monsanto, on policymic, by Alex Cline, a week ago;