Hundreds of California prisoners are on their 36th day without food. For what?
This hunger strike is an extension of the one that began July 1, 2011. The core demands then and now are:
- to provide prisoners in the isolation units (SHUs and AdSegs) with adequate and nutritious food, regular and meaningful social contact, adequate sunlight, as well as meaningful self-help treatment, work, education, religious, and other productive activities
- to provide decent health care
- to abolish the practice of “debriefing”, in which prison staff continually pressure inmates into informing on others and then use the resulting dubious information to throw more prisoners into isolation
- to abolish the practice of group punishment for individual rule-breaking
- to end long-term isolation (hundreds have been in isolation units for 10 to 42 years!)
How is it possible that Jerry Brown and his correctional officials refuse to grant these reasonable demands? The state is already legally required to comply with most of them. Federal courts years ago ordered California to provide decent prison health care. Human rights law mandates most of the demands.
While some people may condone correctional personnel taking punishment into their own hands, most of us believe in the rule of law. People of conscience are horrified by the deployment in our state of techniques of authoritarian regimes: group punishment, extraction of information by persecution, and findings of guilt by association.
Speaking of the rule of law, how were the hunger strikers and the thousands of others in California put into the isolation units? Our correctional officials call California’s extreme isolation “administrative,” and they apply administrative, not judicial, procedures. The prisoner is accused of being affiliated with a gang. Much of the evidence is considered secret and therefore is withheld from him. Without a lawyer, and without knowing all of the evidence against him, he gets a chance to argue his side to a board composed only of correctional personnel. The decision can be appealed, in which case it is reviewed by correctional personnel higher up the chain, never by an independent arbiter.
The hunger strikers are only asking that inmates in our state be treated according to the standards of a just, democratic society.
On behalf of the Mediation Team,
Marilyn McMahon, California Prison Focus, (510) 836-7222
Hunger Strike Mediation Team
Dr. Ronald Ahnen, California Prison Focus and St. Mary’s College of California
Barbara Becnel, Occupy4Prisoners.org
Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
Irene Huerta, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
Marilyn McMahon, California Prison Focus
Carol Strickman, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children
Azadeh Zohrabi, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children