CA state court : Prisoner Can’t Be Punished for Hunger Strike

  • Below is the April 23, 2016 article from SF Gate/San Francisco Chronicle (minus photos and video in the article)
  • Court’s full decision at the bottom of the post.

State court rules prisoners can’t be punished for hunger strike

A state appeals court says a California prisoner who took part in a mass hunger strike protesting long-term solitary confinement should not have been punished for disorderly behavior because he did not disrupt prison operations or endanger anyone.

Although the 2013 hunger strike, which involved as many as 30,000 inmates across the state, may have affected the workload of prison staff members, there was no evidence of “a breakdown of order” or any threat of violence, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said in the case of a former inmate at Pelican Bay State Prison.

The ruling, issued last month, was published Friday as a precedent for future cases. In addition to overturning a 90-day sentencing increase for the inmate, the decision could help numerous hunger strikers whose prison conduct is scrutinized by parole boards, said an attorney in the case, Carol Strickman of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

For inmates serving life sentences with the possibility of parole, “the parole board is citing the hunger strike as a reason to keep them in prison, because of their ongoing criminal mentality,” Strickman said.

“We hope to use this opinion to try to educate the parole board,” she added. “You might say it makes you more suitable (for release), engaging in nonviolent protest. People could see it as good citizenship.”

The inmate, Jorge Gomez, was sent to Pelican Bay, in Del Norte County, in 2000 and was transferred three years later to the prison’s Security Housing Unit, where he was kept in solitary confinement for more than a decade. In July 2013, he refused to eat for four days and, after the third day, was cited for a “serious” violation of prison rules for taking part in a hunger strike.

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