CA Prisoners Win Historic Gains with Settlement Against Solitary Confinement

Posted on September 1, 2015 by prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity

Agreement reached in Ashker v. Brown ends indeterminate long-term solitary confinement in CA, among other gains for prisoners

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 1, 2015
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Oakland – Today, California prisoners locked in isolation achieved a groundbreaking legal victory in their ongoing struggle against the use of solitary confinement. A settlement was reached in the federal class action suit Ashker v. Brown, originally filed in 2012, effectively ending indefinite long-term solitary confinement, and greatly limiting the prison administration’s ability to use the practice, widely seen as a form of torture. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of prisoners held in Pelican Bay State Prison’s infamous Security Housing Units (SHU) for more than 10 years, where they spend 23 hours a day or more in their cells with little to no access to family visits, outdoor time, or any kind of programming.

“From the historic prisoner-led hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013, to the work of families, loved ones, and advocate, this settlement is a direct result of our grassroots organizing, both inside and outside prison walls,” said Dolores Canales of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), and mother of a prisoner in Pelican Bay. “This legal victory is huge, but is not the end of our fight – it will only make the struggle against solitary and imprisonment everywhere stronger.” The 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes gained widespread international attention that for the first time in recent years put solitary confinement under mainstream scrutiny.

Currently, many prisoners are in solitary because of their “status” – having been associated with political ideologies or gang affiliation. However, this settlement does away with the status-based system, leaving solitary as an option only in cases of serious behavioral rule violations. Furthermore, the settlement limits the amount of time a prisoner may be held in solitary, and sets a two year Step-Down Program for the release of current solitary prisoners into the prison general population.

It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners will be released from SHU within one year of this settlement. A higher security general population unit will be created for a small number of cases where people have been in SHU for more than 10 years and have a recent serious rule violation.

“Despite the repeated attempts by the prison regime to break the prisoners’ strength, they have remained unified in this fight,” said Marie Levin of CFASC and sister of a prisoner representative named in the lawsuit. “The Agreement to End Hostilities and the unity of the prisoners are crucial to this victory, and will continue to play a significant role in their ongoing struggle.”

The Agreement to End Hostilities is an historic document put out by prisoner representatives in Pelican Bay in 2012 calling on all prisoners to build unity and cease hostilities between racial groups.

Prisoner representatives and their legal counsel will regularly meet with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials as well as with Federal Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas, who is tasked with overseeing the reforms, to insure that the settlement terms are being implemented.

“Without the hunger strikes and without the Agreement to End Hostilities to bring California’s prisoners together and commit to risking their lives— by being willing to die for their cause by starving for 60 days, we would not have this settlement today,” said Anne Weills of Siegel and Yee, co-counsel in the case. “It will improve the living conditions for thousands of men and women and no longer have them languishing for decades in the hole at Pelican Bay.”

“This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters,” said the prisoners represented in the settlement in a joint statement. “We celebrate this victory while at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle.”

Legal co-counsel in the case includes California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Chistensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness PLLC, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone. The lead counsel is the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge in the case is Judge Claudia Wilken in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

A rally and press conference are set for 12pm in front of the Elihu M Harris State Building in Oakland, which will be livestreamed at http://livestre.am/5bsWO.

The settlement can be read on CCR’s website, along with a summary. CCR has also put up downloadable clips of the plaintiffs’ depositions here.

Survey questionnaire from the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement First Amendment Campaign

From: SF Bay View, Nov 6th 2012

This  Survey questionnaire is being presented to the community for the purpose of making a qualitative assessment of the CDCR’s mail policies and practices in relation to prisoners and our families’ First Amendment constitutional right to send and receive mail and our 14th Amendment constitutional right to be provided with adequate notice of the reasons for our mail being stopped or disallowed, so that we can have
the opportunity to be meaningfully heard as to why our mail is being stopped or disallowed.

The data gathered from this survey will be utilized as material evidence in an ongoing case aimed at obtaining a permanent injunction in court. The injunction would enjoin CDCR’s Prison Intelligence Unit (PIU) and Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) from arbitrarily accusing prisoners, our families and law abiding citizens of the free community of promoting gang activity via the mail that prisoners are sending to and receiving from our families and members of the free community. A permanent injunction will only be granted upon a showing of irreparable harm and when the constitutional violation is proven to be of a systemic nature.

Therefore, it would be greatly appreciated if the community could take a few minutes to answer the following questions:

Questions for prisoners:

  1. What prison are you in?
  2. How long have you been in this prison?
  3. Have you ever had your incoming mail or outgoing mail stopped or disallowed on the grounds of allegedly promoting gang activity? If yes, did you receive a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice”?
  4. If you have had your mail stopped or disallowed, did the reasons listed on the “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” provide you with a specific explanation as to how you were allegedly promoting gang activity? Or was the explanation vague?
  5. Since the year 2006, how many “Stopped Mail Notices” and/or “Mail Disallowal Notices” have you received as a prisoner?
  6. If you have ever had your mail stopped or disallowed, were you ever issued a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” that stated: “You were promoting BGF related activity” because your mail made a reference to any of the following:
    • George Jackson
    • Black August
    • New Afrikan
    • New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism (NARN)
    • Black Panther Party
    • George Jackson University
    • New Afrikan Institute of Criminology 101
    • New Afrikan Collective Think Tank
  7. Have the allegations of gang activity in the “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or “Mail Disallowal Notice” ever been used against you in your Inactive Gang Status Reviews? If yes, please list the months and years that this happened.
  8. Have the allegations of gang activity in the “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” ever been used against you to deny you parole at your parole suitability hearing? If yes, please list the months and years that this happened.
  9. Have you ever been placed on mail restrictions in relation to receiving a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” for alleged gang activity where you were told that you could not write to a specific member of the free community? If yes, how long were the mail restrictions?
  10. Have you ever received a CDC 115 Rules Violation Report for allegedly promoting gang activity via your outgoing or incoming mail? If yes, please list the months and years that this happened.

Questions for family and community members:

  1. Do you have a friend or family member in prison? If yes, what prison are they in?
  2. Do you regularly write to your friend or family member in prison? If yes, how often?
  3. Have you ever received a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” stating that your mail is being stopped or disallowed because you are promoting gang activity? If yes, please list the months and years.
  4. When the prison sent you the “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice,” did the notice inform you that you have a right to file a 602 appeal and/or a citizen’s complaint pursuant to CCR Title 15 Sections 3291(b), 3391(d), and Penal Code Section 832.5?
  5. If you have had your mail stopped or disallowed, did the reasons listed on the “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or “Mail Disallowal Notice” provide you with a specific explanation as to how you were allegedly promoting gang activity? Or was the explanation vague?
  6. Since the year 2006, how many “Stopped Mail Notices” and/or “Mail Disallowal Notices” have you received as a family or community member?
  7. If you have had your mail stopped or disallowed, were you ever issued a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” that stated: “You were promoting BGF related activity” because your mail made a reference to any of the following:
    • George Jackson
    • Black August
    • New Afrikan
    • New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism (NARN)
    • Black Panther Party
    • George Jackson University
    • New Afrikan Institute of Criminology 101
    • New Afrikan Collective Think Tank
  8. Have you ever been placed on mail restrictions in relation to receiving a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” for alleged gang activity where you were told that you could not write to a specific prisoner? If yes, how long were the mail restrictions?
  9. Were you ever subjected to any criminal prosecution as a result of CDCR’s Prison Intelligence Unit (PIU) or Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) accusing you of promoting gang activity per any “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or “Mail Disallowal Notice” that you were issued by the prison?

I would like to thank the community in light of everybody taking a minute to answer the questions within this survey questionnaire. This is a time sensitive request. At your earliest convenience, please mail all survey questionnaires to:

Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, c/o Attorney Carol Strickman,
Re: First Amendment Campaign,
1540 Market St., Suite 490,
San Francisco, CA 94102.
Members of the public can email responses to Azadeh@prisonerswithchildren.org.

All Power to the People!

Freedom, Justice and Human Rights Coordinator

Duguma wins major court victory: Without a fight it can’t be no struggle

From: SF Bay View, Aug. 20th 2012

By by Mutope Duguma

We as New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalist Freedom Fighters have won a major court victory toward throwing off the shackles of mental oppression. The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco has ruled in a 3-0 decision that alleged members and associates of the New Afrikan revolutionary leftist organization titled the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) and all New Afrikan prisoners have a First Amendment right to expression of their United States constitutional rights to speak to the New Afrikan nationalist revolutionary man ideology. The California Prison Intelligence Units (PIU), i.e., the Office of Correctional Safety (OCS) and the Investigative Services Unit (IGI), have now been instructed to comply with the ruling by Justice James Lambden.

These are clearly our political beliefs, synonymous with the various ideological developments:

New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism (NARN),
New Afrikan Nation (NAN),
New Afrikan Nationalist Revolutionary Man (NANRM),
Black Revolutionary Nationalism (BRN),
Revolutionary Nationalism (RN),
Black Nationalism,
New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalist Freedom Fighter (NARNFF),
New Afrikan Ethnic Group (NAEG),
New Afrikan Revolutionary Guerrilla Nationalist Resistance Movement (NARGRM),
New Afrikan Socialist Man/Woman (NASMW).

They are stated in the Writ of Habeas Corpus, Case No. HCPB 10-5298, dated Dec. 26, 2010 and the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco’s Case No. A131276. Three justices ruled unanimously against Pelican Bay State Prison and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation personnel G.D. Lewis, K.L. McGuyer, J. Silveira, G. Wise, K.J. Allen and D. Foster.

The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco has ruled in a 3-0 decision that alleged members and associates of the New Afrikan revolutionary leftist organization titled The Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) and all New Afrikan prisoners have a First Amendment right to expression of their United States constitutional rights to speak to the New Afrikan nationalist revolutionary man ideology.

Yes, my Brothers and Sisters, we have only begun to struggle for our ideological beliefs on all fronts. Therefore, file your grievances, complaints and direct your claims to the state and federal courts forthwith!

Following is a declaration that I personally believe was very instrumental in winning this case due to James T. Campbell establishing clearly our New Afrikan struggle here in Amerika since 1619.

I can only hope that this ruling can allow the many New Afrikans throughout this nation, held in these prisons, general populations as well as solitary confinement torture units, to express our New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalist ideology free of any attacks by overzealous prison intelligence units.

United we stand!

Mutope Duguma

Declaration of James T. Campbell

[photo: Stanford Professor James T. Campbell]

1. I am over 18 years of age and fully competent to make this declaration. I have personal knowledge of the matters described here unless otherwise noted.

2. I am currently the Edgar E. Robinson Professor in United States History at Stanford University. My research focuses on African American history and the wider history of the black Atlantic. I am particularly interested in African American intellectual and political history, including the long history of interconnections and exchange between Africa and America.

3. In my quarter century teaching at Stanford University, Brown University, Northwestern University, and the University of the Witwatersrand I have taught the following courses: Slavery and Freedom in American History; The Politics of Retrospective Justice; The Harlem Renaissance; History and Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement; The Life and Work of W.E.B. Du Bois; Celluloid America: History and Film; as well as survey courses in American and South African history. My curriculum vitae is attached as Exhibit A.

4. I was contacted by the Prison Law Office to review a letter dated April 11, 2010, written by James Crawford, along with some of his other writings. I was asked if I could determine whether the contents of the letter and, in particular, the terms “New Afrika” and “New Afrikan Nationalist Revolutionary Man” communicated genuine political ideas about Black Nationalism in the context of African American history, which is an area I have studied extensively.

5. After reviewing the letter carefully, I reached the conclusion that Mr. Crawford is rooted in a political tradition with deep roots in African American intellectual and political history, a tradition that stretches from the first African emigration movements in the era of the American Revolution, through the classical Black Nationalist tradition of the nineteenth century, and extending through the twentieth century in such incarnations as Marcus Garvey Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Black Panthers, and the Republic of New Afrika. The language that Mr. Crawford uses to communicate his ideas reflects a thorough immersion in and understanding of this history and ideological tradition.

6. Mr. Crawford’s use of the terms “New Afrika” and “New Afrikan” are consistent with the movement in the 1960s and 1970s to allow African Americans the right of self-determination to decide whether to form a Republic of New Afrika in the South. The Republic of New Afrika was one of the movements that popularized the usage of Afrika with a “k.”

7. As is characteristic of Black Nationalist thought in American history, Mr. Crawford’s letter does not appear to trace back to a single source but rather reflects a synthesis of a range of ideologies and movements stretching over the entirety of American history, with particular emphasis on the Black Nationalist movements of the 1960s and early 1970s.

8. Although I have no personal knowledge of what Mr. Crawford was trying to communicate in his April 11, 2010, letter apart from reading it, in my judgment he is a serious political thinker using terms such as “New Afrikan” and “New Afrikan Nationalist Revolutionary Man” that were ubiquitous in Black urban life in the 1960s and 1970s and that to my knowledge have no particular connection to prison gangs.

I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed July 3, 2011, in Palo Alto, California.

Mutope Duguma, a frequent contributor to the Bay View, is the author of “The call: Hunger strike to begin July 1,” “Pelican Bay SHU prisoners plan to resume hunger strike Sept. 26,” “We are willing to sacrifice ourselves to change our conditions,” “They took the 15 of us hunger strikers to ASU-Hell-Row,” “We’ve taken their power away by uniting as one,” “The solitary confinement profiteers“ and many more. Send our brother your congratulations and some love and light: Mutope Duguma (s/n James Crawford), D-05996, PBSP SHU D1-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

3 California hunger strikers commit suicide.

The following press release was posted yesterday at Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity: go to the site and show them some support.

Condolences to these men’s loved ones.

Three Prisoners Die in Hunger Strike Related Incidents: CDCR Withholds Information from Family Members, Fails to Report Deaths
November 17, 2011
Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros

Oakland – In the month since the second phase of a massive prisoner hunger strike in California ended on September 22nd, three prisoners who had been on strike have committed suicide. Johnny Owens Vick and another prisoner were both confined in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit and Hozel Alanzo Blanchard was confined in the Calipatria Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU).

According to reports from prisoners who were housed in surrounding cells and who witnessed the deaths, guards did not come to the assistance of one of the prisoners at Pelican Bay or to Blanchard, and in the case of the Pelican Bay prisoner (whose name is being withheld for the moment) apparently guards deliberately ignored his cries for help for several hours before finally going to his cell, at which point he was already dead. “It is completely despicable that prison officials would willfully allow someone to take their own life,” said Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “These guys were calling for help, their fellow prisoners were calling for help, and guards literally stood by and watched it happen.”

Family members of the deceased as well as advocates are having difficult time getting information about the three men and the circumstances of their deaths. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is required to do an autopsy is the cases of suspicious deaths and according to the Plata case, is required to do an annual report on every death in the system. Family members have said that their loved ones, as well as many other prisoners who participated in the hunger strike, were being severely retaliated against with disciplinary actions and threats. Blanchard’s family has said that he felt that his life was threatened and had two emergency appeals pending with the California Supreme Court at the time of his death.

“It is a testament to the dire conditions under which prisoners live in solitary confinement that three people would commit suicide in the last month,” said Laura Magnani, Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee, “It also points to the severe toll that the hunger strike has taken on these men, despite some apparent victories.” Prisoners in California’s SHUs and other forms of solitary confinement have a much higher rate of suicide than those in general population.

The hunger strike, which at one time involved the participation of at least 12,000 prisoners in 13 state prisons was organized around five core demands relating to ending the practices of group punishment, long-term solitarily confinement, and gang validation and debriefing. The CDCR has promised changes to the gang validation as soon as early next year and were due to have a draft of the new for review this November, although it’s not known whether that process is on schedule. “If the public and legislators don’t continue to push CDCR, they could easily sweep all of this under the rug,” said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator Californians United for a Responsible Budget, “These deaths are evidence that the idea of accountability is completely lost on California’s prison officials.”

Pelican Bay: This is what Democracy Looks Like…




Please continue to support the California Hunger Strikers. See their five core demands below and sign the petition here if you haven’t yet already.

—————- from Truthout—————–

California Prison Hunger Strike Ends, Conditions of “Immense Torture” Continue

by: Victoria Law, Truthout | Report


Imagine a concrete room no more than eight by ten feet. It has no windows, only a perforated steel door facing a solid concrete wall. Fluorescent lights stay on 24 hours a day.

Now imagine being locked in that room.

This is the reality for 1,111 people locked in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. The SHU comprises half of the prison. It is explicitly designed to keep prisoners in long-term solitary confinement under conditions of extreme sensory deprivation. Men are locked into their cells for at least 22 hours a day. Food is delivered twice a day through a slot in the cell door. They are allowed five hours a week of exercise in a cement yard the length of three cells with a roof only partially open to the sky.

Prison administrators place men in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term because they have been accused of being prison gang members, often by confidential informants and highly dubious evidence. Prisoners who have been “validated” as gang members are released from the SHU into the general prison population only if they “debrief” or provide information incriminating other prisoners. Debriefing can be dangerous to both the prisoner who debriefs and his family on the outside. In addition, prisoners are often falsely identified as gang members by others who debrief in order to escape the SHU. One does not necessarily need to be a gang member to be sent to the SHU: jailhouse lawyers and others who challenge inhumane prison conditions are disproportionately sent to the SHU. Mutope DuGoya is one of those men: he states that, in 2001, despite his work with Code 4, the prison’s Scared Straight program and his record of remaining free of violations for six years, he was placed in SHU on the word of a confidential informant. (Letter from DuGoya, dated September 21, 2011.) Another prisoner, who has been in SHU for 21 years, writes, “Because I am here with people who the CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] have labeled as being gang-involved, the CDCR uses that to confirm that I am involved with a gang.” (Letter from person in Pelican Bay SHU, dated September 26, 2011.)

These atrocities are not limited to Pelican Bay. California holds nearly 4,000 people in SHUs and nearly 14,500 in other forms of segregation within its prison system. Over 240 of these people are women, who are often guarded and watched by male staff, even when they are undressing, showering or on the toilet. Transgender and transsexual prisoners are often likely to be placed in isolation.

Pelican Bay State Prison opened in December 1989. Almost immediately, prisoners began filing complaints about abusive conditions.

In 1993, over 3,500 prisoners signed onto Madrid v. Gomez, a class-action lawsuit that charged prison officials with abuse and violation of their human rights. In 1995, the federal court issued injunctions aimed at eliminating excessive force, improving health care and removing prisoners with mental illness from the Security Housing Unit. Although he stated that conditions “hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” the presiding judge stopped short of declaring the physical structure of long-term solitary confinement unconstitutional.

In 1994, Steven Castillo, who charges that prison administrators placed him in SHU in retaliation for his hunger strikes and numerous lawsuits against CDCR, filed Castillo v. Alamedia. Seven years later, in 2001, Castillo and approximately 1,000 other prisoners at Pelican Bay and a second California prison launched a six-day hunger strike, protesting the prison’s gang policy. The strike was suspended after California State Sen. Richard Polanco intervened and vowed to help broker a resolution. Although Polanco’s office convened several meetings between corrections officials and prisoners over the next year, no changes resulted. In 2002, Castillo and 60 prisoners at Pelican Bay again launched a hunger strike. The strike lasted three weeks, but no changes in CDCR’s debriefing policy occurred.

In 2004, ten years after Castillo v. Alamedia was filed, a settlement agreement was reached that, ostensibly, would reshape the debriefing policy governing release from SHU. However, the substantial changes promised never happened and, seven years later, conditions in SHU remain fundamentally unchanged.

In 2010, prisoners at Pelican Bay drafted and sent a Formal Complaint about conditions to lawmakers, prison and CDCR officials and then-Governor Schwarzenegger. “CDCR’s response was ‘file a grievance if you haven’t already,'” recalled Todd Ashker, a co-author of the Complaint. “Then we were locked down, even more, in our cells from July 2010 to February/March 2011.” During that time, the prisoners agreed that “something had to be done … It was agreed, a peaceful protest via hunger strike was our best option, the goal being to expose the illegal policies and practices to the mainstream media (and thereby masses of people) and, with outside support, pressure/force meaningful changes!” (Letter from Todd Ashker, dated September 25, 2011.)

On July 1, 2011, SHU prisoners began a hunger strike with five core demands:

  1. Eliminate group punishments for individual rules violations;
  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 Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement;
  4. Provide adequate food;
  5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

“No one wants to die,” stated hunger-striker DuGoya. “Yet under this current system of what amounts to immense torture, what choice do we have? If one is to die, it will be on our own terms.”

Over the course of the three-week hunger strike, at least 1,035 of the SHU’s 1,111 inmates refused food. The strike spread to 13 other state prisons and involved at least 6,600 people incarcerated throughout California.

Outside prison walls, family members, advocates and concerned community members took action to draw attention to the hunger strike. In Oakland, supporters held a weekly vigil on Thursday evenings. On July 9, supporters organized demonstrations in cities throughout the US and Canada. On July 18, 200 family members, lawyers and outside supporters from across California converged upon CDCR headquarters in Sacramento, delivered a petition of over 7,500 signatures in support of the hunger strikers and then marched to Governor Brown’s office to demand answers. That same day, supporters in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City and Philadelphia also held solidarity rallies.

On July 14, two weeks into the strike, CDCR Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan spoke to representatives of the Pelican Bay hunger strikers. He promised that their demands would be addressed and that the CDCR would enact positive changes over time.

On July 20, Kernan and other CDCR administrators again met with hunger strike representatives. Again, Kernan made assurances about positive changes to SHU and stated that he would provide specifics about their demands in a couple of weeks. The hunger strike representatives met and discussed Kernan’s proposals. They decided to temporarily suspend the hunger strike to allow CDCR a grace period to fulfill their promises.

The next month, on August 19, prisoner representatives met with Kernan and other administrators. Kernan had no specific plans regarding the hunger strikers’ core demands, but, as the prisoner representatives noted, offered only “very vague, general terms, about CDCR staff working to come up with some type of step down program for inmates to get out of SHU, which does not require debriefing-informant status.” The representatives asked that specific details be provided on paper to all SHU sections. Kernan agreed to begin providing documentation within two weeks.

Sparked by the hunger strike, its ensuing publicity and community pressure on legislators, the California Assembly’s Public Safety Commission held a hearing on SHU conditions on August 23. Former SHU prisoners, family members, attorneys, advocates and psychiatrists testified about the need for substantial changes to SHU policies and practices. CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan, who was a negotiator with the hunger strike representatives, also testified.

On August 31, SHU staff issued memos stating that prisoners would be allowed to have handballs on the yard and the ability to purchase sweatsuits. If they remained free of disciplinary violations for one year and gained committee approval, they would be allowed to have a yearly photo taken and to purchase art pens and drawing paper from the prison canteen. None of the core demands were addressed.

In addition, many strike participants were issued a disciplinary memo stating, “Your behavior and actions were out of compliance with the Director’s Rules and this documentation is intended to record your actions and advise that progressive discipline will be taken in the future for any reoccurrence of this type of behavior.”

Prison officials have retaliated against the hunger strikers in other ways. According to Carol Strickman, an attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “Prisoners are receiving serious disciplinary write-ups, usually reserved for serious rules violations, for things like talking in the library or not walking fast enough. It’s clear that prison officials are trying to intimidate these men and to make them ineligible for any privileges or changes that may be forced by the strike.”

On September 2, a memo entitled Gang Management Proposal (dated August 25) was issued to the four principal representatives of the hunger strike. Hunger striker Antonio Guillen wrote that the proposal is, “by far the most punitive and restrictive program I have ever seen. It is way worse than what we have in place now and that’s saying something because the current program is, in part, what prompted the hunger strike.” It also widens the criteria from “‘traditional prison gangs’ ” to “anyone they consider to be problematic.” (Statement from Guillen that came with a letter dated September 27, 2011.) Kernan himself alluded to this during his testimony on August 23: “We believe that the current process, which targets six prison gangs, needs to be modified and what we really need to do is identify security threat groups … our policies target just the prison gangs today and we’re not capturing the inmates that perhaps should be segregated from our population.”

Despite these threats, prisoners throughout California resumed their hunger strike on September 26. By the third day, nearly 12,000 were participating. The strike spread not only to 12 prisons inside California, but also to prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma that are housing California prisoners.

In response, the CDCR classified the strike as an organized disturbance and transferred hunger strikers form the SHU to Administrative Segregation, where they lose access to all of their personal possessions and are denied access to their mail (including legal mail). According to recent interviews with the men, they have only a jumpsuit, a mattress and a thin blanket. The transfer could also negatively affect parole decisions. The retaliation has caused the number of hunger strikers to drop. In addition, hunger strikers at other prisons report that the CDCR has been undercounting the number of participants, refusing to mark men as hunger strikers if they drink liquids or touch the food tray.

Prison officials have also retaliated against outside supporters: Carol Strickman and Marilyn McMahon, executive director of California Prison Focus, had been involved in extensive discussions with corrections officials, including Kernan and leaders of the strike. On September 29, the Department of Corrections placed them under investigation, alleging that they “violated the laws and policies governing the safe operations of institutions within the CDCR.” Both attorneys are banned from all California prisons until the investigation is concluded. Attorneys who were able to visit reported that the CDCR has the air conditioning on high in 50-degree weather.

On October 13, prisoners at Pelican Bay ended their nearly-three week hunger strike after the CDCR guaranteed a comprehensive review of every prisoner in California whose SHU sentence is related to gang validation under new criteria. Two days later, hunger strikers at Calipatria State Prison stopped their strike to allow time to regain their strength.

“This is something the prisoners have been asking for and it is the first significant step we’ve seen from the CDCR to address the hunger strikers’ demands,” says Carol Strickman, a lawyer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “But as you know, the proof is in the pudding. We’ll see if the CDCR keeps its word regarding this new process.”

Victoria Law is a writer, photographer, mother, and Contributing Author for New Clear Vision. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated Women (PM Press, 2009), the editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison, and a co-founder of Books Through Bars — NYC. She is currently working on transforming Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind, a zine series on how radical movements can support the families in their midst, into a book.