by Ryan Burns
UPDATE: The Bay Area group Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity released the above video yesterday, which gives a brief recap of the issues that sparked the original hunger strike and calls for public support.
This morning at 11, prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison began their third hunger strike in the past two years as a way to protest conditions inside the prison's Secure Housing Units -- aka "the SHU" -- where inmates are held in small, windowless cells for 22 1/2 to 24 hours per day. Some of them have been there for decades.
The strikers allege that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has failed to honor promises made two years ago, in the wake of the first strike. Last month, SHU inmates announced that a "nonviolent peaceful protest of our subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture" would resume today.
The protest will include not just the hunger strike but also a work stoppage, and it will continue, they said, "until CDCR signs a legally binding agreement meeting our demands, the heart of which mandates an end to long-term solitary confinement (as well as additional major reforms)."
"We are certain that we will prevail," the inmates said in a written statement -- "the only question being: How many will die starvation-related deaths before state officials sign the agreement?" The strikers have five core demands:
1. Eliminate group punishments and administrative abuse.
2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons recommendations and end long-term solitary confinement.
4. Provide adequate and nutritious food.
5. Create and expand constructive programming.
For some background, here's the Journal's September 2011 cover story on Pelican Bay and a follow-up on a federal class-action lawsuit filed on the prisoners' behalf by the Center for Constitutional Rights. That lawsuit is ongoing.
The first round of this hunger strike started inside Pelican Bay's SHU on July 1, 2011, eventually spreading to more than 6,000 inmates in at least 13 of California's 33 prisons. Inmates and their advocates allege that prolonged periods of solitary confinement amounts to torture and that the system for placing inmates in the SHU -- and for getting released -- violates their rights to due process.
A group of Humboldt County protesters made the drive up to the gates of Pelican Bay, just north of Crescent City, and today they set up along the side of the road with signs and a banner announcing their solidarity with the prisoners.