As prisoners endure their 54th day without food, California state senator Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano issued a statement today where they vowed to hold hearings in response to the hunger strike.
“The issues raised by the hunger strike are real – concerns about the use and conditions of solitary confinement in California’s prisons – are real and can no longer be ignored,” Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano said in a joint statement. Assemblymember Ammiano said further, “The Courts have made clear that the hunger strikers have legitimate issues of policy and practice that must be reviewed. The Legislature has a critical role in considering and acting on their concerns. We cannot sit by and watch our state pour money into a system that the US. Supreme Court has declared does not provide constitutionally acceptable conditions of confinement and that statistics show has failed to increase public safety.”
“We appreciate Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano’s promises to take action. Ultimately it is up to the hunger strikers’ themselves as to when and how they will end their protest. But as their advocates on the outside, we feel positive about today’s developments,” said Dolores Canales, who is a member of the strikers’ mediation team and whose son is in Pelican Bay.
Hancock and Ammiano’s statement represents the strongest steps forward in addressing the prisoners’ peaceful protest, and advocates and lawyers representing the strikers say they are eager to communicate this development to the prisoners. “The prisoners on strike have always been clear that there is a viable pathway toward resolving the crisis created by the CDCR,” Said Anne Weills, a civil rights attorney representing some of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay. “I look forward to talking to hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay to get their thoughtful input around the Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano’s proposal.”
As advocates work to communicate with prisoners on strike around this development, they are also encouraging a cautious attitude. “The strike is not over yet and it is still at a very dangerous moment given that we are entering a long weekend where people have gone 54 days without eating,” said Marie Levin, whose brother is one of the four remaining strike representatives locked in Administrative Segregation at Pelican Bay. “We hope that the CDCR will not act to disrupt this potentially positive development by spreading false information to strikers or continuing to retaliate against their peaceful protest.”
Lawyers visited New Folsom Prison north of Sacramento yesterday where they discovered nearly 80 Pelican Bay strikers had been relocated. They reported that health conditions are poor but that many are still on strike. Some prisoners that had come off strike have resumed the protest due to mistreatment at that facility. Lawyers also reported that other prisoners at New Folsom also joined the protest when they learned of the mistreatment of their fellow prisoners from Pelican Bay.
Concern for the strikers and condemnation of the CDCR is spreading internationally. Earlier today Tessa Murphy, Campaigner on the USA at Amnesty International said,“it’s nothing short of appalling that instead of dealing with the complaints, California’s prison authorities have chosen to threaten inmates with force-feeding and disciplinary measures, and have moved some to other facilities.” Meanwhile the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, said they would “again extend our offer to Gov. Brown and Dr. Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), to assist in the resolution of this urgent life threatening situation. We offer to serve Gov. Brown and Dr. Beard on any outside oversight committee that may be convened to investigate any alleged human rights violations in the California’s prisons in order to propose the necessary corrective measures.”