The Peace and Justice Caucus of the Oakland Education Association stands in solidarity with the prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay Prison in Northern California who began an ongoing strike on July 1st, 2011 to protest the tortuous and inhumane conditions of their imprisonment. At least 6600 prisoners in 13 prisons have joined the strike, and the courageous actions of these prisoners have gained support across the world.
Medical personnel with knowledge of the prisoners [see attached statement] report that medical conditions of the prisoners are “quickly and severely deteriorating.” According to Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, a legal representative for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition, “This situation is grave and urgent–we are fighting to prevent a lot of deaths at Pelican Bay. The CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] needs to negotiate with these prisoners, and honor the request of strike leaders to have access to outside mediators…”
The hunger strike was organized by prisoners in an unusual show of racial unity. The hunger strikers developed five core demands.
They are briefly summarized below:
1. Eliminate group punishments. Instead, practice individual accountability. When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race. This policy has been applied to keep prisoners in the SHU indefinitely and to make conditions increasingly harsh.
2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. Prisoners are accused of being active or inactive participants of prison gangs using false or highly dubious evidence, and are then sent to long term isolation (SHU). They can escape these tortuous conditions only if they “debrief,” that is, provide information on gang activity. Debriefing produces false information (wrongly landing other prisoners in SHU, in an endless cycle) and can endanger the lives of debriefing prisoners and their families.
3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long term solitary confinement. This bipartisan commission specifically recommended to “make segregation a last resort” and “end conditions of isolation.” Yet as of May 18, 2011, California kept 3,259 prisoners in SHUs and hundreds more in Administrative Segregation waiting for a SHU cell to open up. Some prisoners have been kept in isolation for more than thirty years.
4. Provide adequate food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food that do not conform to prison regulations. There is no accountability or independent quality control of meals.
5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates. The hunger strikers are pressing for opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities…” Currently these opportunities are routinely denied, even if the prisoners want to pay for correspondence courses themselves. Examples of privileges the prisoners want are: one phone call per week, and permission to have sweatsuits and watch caps. (Often warm clothing is denied, though the cells and exercise cage can be bitterly cold.) All of the privileges mentioned in the demands are already allowed at other SuperMax prisons (in the federal prison system and other states).
The OEA Peace and Justice Caucus urges people to call the CDCR & public officials to urge them to take action immediately, negotiate with the prisoners and honor their demands.
Governor Jerry Brown: (916) 445-2841
CDCR Public Affairs Office: (916) 445-4950
Contact OEA Peace & Justice Caucus via firstname.lastname@example.org