Today Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, welcomed the end to the California prison inmate hunger strike after 60 days.
“I am relieved and gratified that the hunger strike has ended without further sacrifice or risk of human life,” Senator Hancock stated. “”The issues raised by the hunger strike are real – concerns about the use and conditions of solitary confinement in California’s prisons – and will not be ignored.”
“I’m happy that no one had to die in order to bring attention to these conditions,” Ammiano said. “The prisoners’ decision to take meals should be a relief to CDCR and the Brown administration, as well as to those who support the strikers.”
The end to the hunger strike comes five days after Hancock and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, announced that they will hold joint public hearings on the conditions in California prisons that have led to the inmate hunger strike. The two legislators asked the inmates to end to the hunger strike so that energy and attention can be focused on the issues that have been raised.
According to Senator Hancock, “The inmates participating in the hunger strike have succeeded in bringing these issues to the center of public awareness and debate, Legislators now recognize the seriousness and urgency of these concerns and we will move forward to address them..”
“I’m especially gratified if the call for hearings helped bring this about,” Ammiano said. “However, our real work begins now, as we will soon start preparing for hearings that I hope can bring an end to the disgraceful conditions that triggered the hunger strike.”
The first hearing is expected to take place in October and will focus on two key issues raised by the hunger strike:
1. The conditions of confinement in California’s maximum security prisons.
On April 9, 2013, a U. S. District Judge ruled in a class action law suit that inmates being held in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades, had adequately demonstrated that the State of California may be denying them protection from cruel and unusual punishment and granted the plaintiffs the right to a trial.
2. The effect of long-term solitary confinement as a prison management strategy, and a human rights issue.
Senator Hancock stated, “California continues to be an outlier in its use of solitary confinement. Solitary confinement has been recognized internationally and by other states to be an extreme form of punishment that leads to mental illness if used for prolonged periods of time. Since many of these inmates will eventually have served their sentences and will be released, it is in all our best interest to offer hope of rehabilitation while they are incarcerated – not further deterioration.”
“We know these prisoners have committed crimes,” Ammiano said, “but I have to repeat: It does not justify the way the state is treating them in the name of all Californians. We want California to be a leader in effective and enlightened corrections and true rehabilitation.”
The two legislators cited a report by Juan E. Méndez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, “Even if solitary confinement is applied for short periods of time, it often causes mental and physical suffering or humiliation, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and if the resulting pain or sufferings are severe, solitary confinement even amounts to torture.”
They also referred to the 2006 report of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, a bipartisan national task force. The report found that between 1995 and 2000, the use of solitary confinement in the United States had increased by 40 percent, far outpacing the 28 percent growth rate of the overall prison population. The Commission concluded that solitary confinement is counterproductive to public safety, and costs twice as much as imprisonment in the general population. The Commission recommended ending long-term isolation of inmates.