Prisoners in the Corcoran Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) have been striking for periods of time since late December 2011. It’s likely that some number of prisoners have been striking for the last two weeks. As of February 9, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), disclosed that 30 men were still striking and a representative in the office said that prisoners had been intermittently striking for the last month. The CDCR has consistently misreported the numbers of prisoners on strike around California, and we’ve heard rumors of numbers anywhere from 50 to 200.
The Corcoran strikers are rallying around 11 demands which can be found in their December 30, 2011 statement. The demands of the Corcoran strikers are somewhat different than those of the strikes sparked in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) this past summer and fall, which at one point included 12,000 prisoners in 13 prisons across California. Administrative Segregation Units are often used as holding places for prisoners in route to SHU facilities, or who are waiting for release back into general population. Many prisoners in the various ASUs in California have been validated as gang members by CDCR and languish, sometimes for years, awaiting transfer to facilities such as Pelican Bay, where some prisoners have spent more than 20 years in solitary confinement.
Family members and others on the outside fear strikers may be experiencing serious medical issues and even death. A prisoner at Corcoran, who remains unnamed due to fear of reprisal, stated in a letter received on February 5th, “On or about February 2nd or 3rd, 2012, an inmate has passed away due to not eating that has been going on over here in Corcoran ASU. Inmates are passing out and having other medical problems and it seems that this is not being taken seriously. There will be more casualties if this isn’t addressed or brought to light.”
While this death is unconfirmed, it raises concerns that the CDCR is failing take this hunger strike or the prisoners’ demands seriously. “The prisoners are making very reasonable and legitimate demands regarding basic human rights,” says Carol Strickman, a lawyer working on behalf of some hunger strikers in California, “For those of us on the outside, the slow pace of reform is frustrating. For those people enduring barbarous conditions, the lack of meaningful improvement is unbearable.”