From San Quentin Adjustment Center SHU: a prison within a prison

From a prisoner inside the San Quentin “Adjustment Center”:
Greetings:
 
We want to be counted amongst the thousands and also let the world know that death row has a S. H. U. and though the refuse to call it so, there’s ad-seg in here with us and everyone knows what the Adjustment Center is.  A S. H. U. is a prison within a prison and we’ve been left in here for decades.
 
However 80% of us are still on strike.  We lost 3 but they were older and they did enough by showing their solidarity. Everyone else is pushing forward.  (Keep in mind there’s only 102 people in this unit.)  
There’s 4 who are not only doing the hunger strike but are refusing water too!  They are on the critical list and my be going to an outside hospital soon.  Right now they’ve only mention taking them to be put on I. V.  We’ll find out on Monday because they keep saying they’re out of staff or some b.s. but those guys have gone without water for over 4 days now. 
 
As for the rest this is our 13th day without and as of today the Warden hasn’t sat down with us nor has a meeting been set.  We have been scheduled to go to committee this Wednesday.  We’ll know more then and where they stand.  He still need to see we’re serious and believe me, I myself am.  I’ve set my mind to 30 days but with each passing day I become stronger and plan to go the distance like everyone else is.  We’re serious, focused, and committed.  
Thanks for your support, help, and for all the work you’ve been putting in.  Please send our thanks to everyone else for everything they are doing.  
Oh! we’ve only been weighed once.  We’ve been told they’ll be doing it every 7 days because there’s so many through out the prison.  Alright now, Geri, stay in touch  as I will and thank you once again for everything. Your support and solidarity has given us strength and nourished our starving bodies! Gracias.
 
P. S. Can you provide us with a list of lawyers or organizations that have lawyers who’ll represent us as negotiators and mediators to settle this strike?  Thanks.
 
Respectfully,
 
Carlos M. Argueta #F63367
C. S. P. – S. Q.  (3AC-15-N)
San Quentin, CA 94974

California has breached human rights of prisoners on hunger strike

Posted: 22 July 2013

‘Prisoners … should not be subjected to punitive measures for exercising their right to engage in peaceful protest’ – Angela Wright


The Californian prison authorities have breached international human rights obligations by taking punitive measures against prisoners on hunger strike, Amnesty International said today.

More than 1,000 inmates in prisons across California remain on hunger strike over conditions for thousands held in solitary confinement in the state’s prisons, with the protest entering its third week.

This is down from approximately 30,000 prisoners in more than 24 prisons who began their hunger strike on 8 July to protest against the state’s policy of long-term solitary confinement in so-called “Security Housing Units”.

On 11 July, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation threatened to take disciplinary action against all those participating in the hunger strike – a move which may extend their time in the secure units.

Hunger strike leaders have also been subjected to increased isolation, where they face harsher conditions and increased restrictions on communication with their lawyers.

A core group of hunger strikers in the north Californian Pelican Bay Security Housing Units claim the prison authorities have blasted cold air into their cells, as well as confiscated fluids, hygiene products and legal materials.

Last year Amnesty published a highly critical 58-page report on the units, describing the “shocking” conditions endured by more than 3,000 prisoners, including 78 people who had spent more than two decades in isolation units (see http://amn.st/12HjOav).

Amnesty International’s USA researcher Angela Wright said:

“Prolonged isolation under conditions which can only be described as cruel and inhumane treatment is prohibited under international law.

“It is unsurprising that prisoners in the SHU are protesting the conditions of their detention.
“Prisoners seeking an end to inhumane conditions should not be subjected to punitive measures for exercising their right to engage in peaceful protest. 

“Rather than punishing prisoners further with the threat of disciplinary action, the Department of Corrections should commit to meaningful reforms that will address the inhumanity of the state’s prison system.”

While California’s Department of Corrections has introduced changes to how individuals are assigned to the units, and how they can work their way out, Amnesty believes that these reforms do not go far enough.

Numerous studies have shown that being held under such harsh environmental conditions is detrimental to a prisoner’s psychological and physical health.

Prisoners held under these conditions are denied rehabilitative or educational programming, and have little or no social contact – including with family members. Most are eventually released back into mainstream society where the long-term effects of their confinement make reintegration harder.

Amnesty is urging California’s Department of Corrections to introduce long-overdue reforms to the secure units system to ensure that California’s treatment of prisoners does not violate its obligation under international human rights law to treat all prisoners humanely.
 

Solidarity with the 30,000 from across the world

Solidarity with the hunger strikers from across the world: 

“The policy of isolation exposes the ugly face of these false democracies that are guilty of occupation, tyranny and social repression…
I fought in a hunger strike for 66 consecutive days against the policy of administrative detention, my detention without charge or trial. I announce my full solidarity with my 30,000 oppressed brothers in the American prisons…” – Khader Adnan

From Ohio:
7-1-13 For Distribution:

Why should a prisoner in Ohio or Minnesota, or New Mexico, support California prisoners as they move into a crucial stage of struggle for their just do?

My humble opinion is: how could any prisoner think that these apartheid-style policies being used in California won’t come knocking in Florida, WV, Illinois, or any prison system, at any given time? Remember California is said to be a liberal (in terms of political policy) state. How many conservative governors are envious of such harsh prison policies right now?!

I urge all of you in every prison and your able-bodied supporters (each of you can ask one of your friends, supporters outside who are in good health) to support this July 8th hunger strike in some form, but don’t wait till this kind of policy pays you a visit…

Remember Lucasville

Greg Curry (Ohio State Penitentiary)
————-
Nora’s blog – Electronic Intifada
Prisoner solidarity from Palestine to Pelican Bay
Via: ElectronicIntifada, July 8 2013

Persons incarcerated in Pelican Bay prison in northern California are preparing to go on a mass hunger strike starting today, 8 July, demanding the end of human rights violations including long-term solitary confinement.
Palestine activism groups are also launching days of action in support of the US hunger strikers in California, strengthening solidarity between Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons who are calling for an end to the similar methods of mass incarceration, abuse and torture inflicted upon them.

This is not the first time prisoners inside California’s Pelican Bay will go on hunger strike to demand the end of abuses. In July 2011, approximately 6,000 prisoners across twelve prisons in California took part in a three-week mass hunger strike that was launched by persons imprisoned inside Pelican Bay. The California Department of Corrections (CDC) pledged to implement reforms, and the hunger strike ended.

But later that year — after the CDC failed to change their treatment of prisoners — another hunger strike was launched by prisoners across the state. This time, 12,000 persons took part in the mass hunger strike, which lasted from 26 September to 13 October 2011. Again, prisoners in Pelican Bay say that the state promised but ultimately failed to change their policies.

Today, Truthout published a testimonial by Richard Wembe Johnson, who is imprisoned in long-term solitary confinement at Pelican Bay. Johnson is a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights to challenge such practices.

Persons inside solitary confinement units are isolated for at least 22.5 hours a day “in cramped, concrete, windowless cells,” Truthout writes. “They are denied telephone calls, contact visits, any kind of programming, adequate food and, often, medical care. Nearly 750 of these men have been held under these conditions for more than a decade, dozens for over 20 years.”

In his brief testimonial, Richard Wembe Johnson writes that being in long-term solitary confinement has made him feel he could “descend into madness.” He adds:

It is a challenge each day just to remain sane. I experience a wide and shifting range of emotions, including depression, hopelessness, antipathy, anxiety and humiliation, and I have chronic insomnia. It is difficult even to concentrate from moment to moment; my thoughts are mixed and perplexing, even in my sleep (when I am able to sleep at all).
Under no circumstance should anyone be treated like this. We are human and should not forfeit basic human rights because we are in prison.  Of course everyone should be held accountable for their actions. However, punishment for a crime should never amount to torture. What’s more, [security housing unit] confinement is additional punishment, on top of imprisonment, not for any crime or violation of prison rules, but for unsubstantiated claims that we have associated with gang members.

Core demands

Representatives from inside Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) have initiated this latest call for a mass hunger strike and have notified California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, that such a protest will take place beginning today.
The prisoners’ core demands include:

  1. End group punishment & administrative abuse
  2. Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria
  3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement
  4. Provide adequate and nutritious food
  5. Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for those living in the SHU

In addition to the five core demands as laid out in the original 2011 protest, the prisoners have also presented forty supplemental demands that “are part of and/or related to our five core demands.”
They state in a press release posted on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website:

Governor Jerry Brown; CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard; and all other parties of interest,

In response to CDCR’s failure to meet our 2011 Five (5) Core Demands, the [Pelican Bay Stae Prison – Security Housing Unit] Short Corridor Representatives respectfully present this notice of, and basis for, our individualized, collectively agreed upon, decision to resume our nonviolent peaceful protest action on July 08, 2013.

The upcoming peaceful protest will be a combined Hunger Strike – Work Stoppage action. Once initiated, this protest will continue indefinitely—until all Five (5) Core Demands are fully met.

From Pelican Bay to Palestine

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoners’ Solidarity Network issued a call of solidarity with the US prisoners in Pelican Bay, and offered ways to take action.
Samidoun states:

[W]ithout progress over almost two years, the prisoners in California are launching their strike again. Prisoners continue to be sentenced to lifetimes in solitary confinement because they are labelled “gang affiliated” over such matters as tattoos, cultural art, or reading material. Youth prisoners in Washington have also announced their intention to join the strike.

Over 2 million people are imprisoned in the US and over 60 percent of those people are people of color, subject to a distinctly racialized system that routinely criminalizes youth of color, in sharp contrast to the crime rate, which has fallen while imprisonment has risen. Mass incarceration is deeply racialized, as 1/3 of young Black men are in the criminal justice system. The US holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners with 5 percent of the world’s population, and prisoner resistance and political action has been sharply repressed.

As we stand against apartheid, racism, and Zionism in Palestine, we stand against racism and oppression in the US and around the world. Solitary confinement is a mechanism of torture, from Palestine to Pelican Bay to Guantanamo, and we stand in solidarity with the courageous prisoners who challenge isolation and oppression. The US is Israel’s key international supporter, ally, and economic/military supplier, and maintains regimes of mass imprisonment for social control both in occupied Palestine and in its own prisons.
Take action and sign the Pledge of Resistance with the California Hunger Strikers.

The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) also issued a call of support and solidarity with hunger strikers from California to Palestine.
IJAN states:

Members of IJAN have been following and supporting the organizing of California prisoners, who are prepared to go on indefinite hunger strike starting July 8 to demand an end to long–term solitary confinement and other abuses.

Both Israel and the US use policing, imprisonment (and especially solitary confinement), and surveillance as tools of political repression—often sharing technology and training. In the US, the prison industrial complex plays a central role in American racism—harassing and incarcerating Black and Brown youth, brutalizing Black and Brown bodies, and devastating communities of color.

Israel plays a significant role in the training of police forces in the United States and elsewhere in population control and Israel and the US share technologies and strategies of surveillance and repression across borders (for more information on Israel’s Worldwide Role in Repression follow this link).

As people who support the liberation of all peoples, and oppose all forms of racism, it is imperative that we stand behind striking prisoners, who are willing to risk their lives organizing for their rights and dignity.

… People who stand up to organize events on the Day of Action (or any other date) are asked to act in true solidarity by following these guidelines from the Coalition based on communication with the prisoners:

  1. Support the prisoners by advocating for the Five Core Demands rather than agitating for other goals or our own demands
  2. Remember that the prisoners chose a “nonviolent peaceful protest” and plan your solidarity actions with that spirit in mind
  3. Honor the strikers, their loved ones, supporters, and the larger community of prisoner-rights and anti-prison organizations by refusing to claim leadership of the solidarity campaign

Palestinian prisoners still on hunger strike

Addameer, the Palestinian prisoners’ advocacy organization based in the occupied West Bank, reported on 18 June that:

Individual hunger strikes of Palestinian political prisoners have escalated dramatically since the beginning of 2013, with over 33 prisoners engaging in hunger strikes for various reasons.
This week, Addameer has confirmed that four new prisoners have started hunger strikes. Currently, there are 13 prisoners on hunger strike in the Occupation’s prisons, the highest number of individual hunger strikers in over a year.

In a summary of their latest quarterly report, which came out last week, Addameer stated that:

Key issues this quarter were the Israel Prison Services’ (IPS) continued medical negligence, use of isolation, increase in raids, the military court’s use of Article 186 of Military Order 1651, detention and torture of child prisoners under the age of 16 and increased detention of journalists, Jerusalemites and human rights defenders.

Addameer maintains that increased international pressure and forceful actions must be taken to oblige Israel to act within international law parameters until the imminent abolition of the military prison system.

Yasiin Bey demonstrates Guantanamo force-feeding

In related news, more than 100 detainees languishing inside the Guantanamo Bay prison continue their hunger strike protest against the Obama administration’s ongoing policies of indefinite detention, the UK Guardian reports, adding:

More than 40 of them are being force-fed. A leaked document sets out the military instructions, or standard operating procedure, for force-feeding detainees.

Hip hop artist and activist Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, recently elected to experience force-feeding under the same conditions in which detainees at Guantanamo are being subjected. He filmed the shocking procedure in a four-minute video produced by the human rights organization Reprieve.
The Guardian adds in a related article:

The four-minute video, directed by Bafta award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia, seeks to reconstruct the specific force-feeding instructions set out in standard operating guidelines from Guantánamo leaked to al-Jazeera. It shows a plastic tube being inserted through Bey’s nostril into his stomach. The “Medical Management Standard Operating Procedure” document leaked from the detention camp defines a hunger striker as a detainee who has missed at least nine consecutive meals or whose weight has fallen to less than 85 percent of his ideal body weight.

You can watch the incredibly disturbing — but important — video here.

Californian prisoners prepare for hunger strike

Reblogged from the Irish Times:

Californian prisoners prepare for hunger strike
Inmates say California’s crowded, dangerous jails violate their rights. What effect might protests have?

Peadar King, June 20, 2013

Of the 10.1 million people held in penal institutions across the world, 2.29 million are held in the US. Of those, 80 per cent are poor, more than 60 per cent are members of racial minorities and more than 50 per cent have mental-health problems.

Across the US almost seven million people are in prison, on probation, on parole or in county jails. The numbers represent a 379 per cent increase from 1980, when the number was not quite two million.

Children are not immune from imprisonment. There are 250,000 children in adult jails and prisons across the US, some as young as eight and nine, of whom 3,000 have been sentenced to life without parole. Of these, 74 per cent are African-American or Latino.

In prison they are 10 times more likely to be sexually and physically abused than are adult prisoners. Many of these adults and young people did not have proper legal representation at the time of their trials despite the 1963 US supreme court ruling in the Gideon v Wainwright case that entitles all defendants to legal counsel irrespective of income.

Even in the US California stands out. Recent decades have seen rapid growth in the state’s prison population – greater than the combined numbers of France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway – although the state’s overall population is just a fifth of those countries’.

The current controversy relates not to the number of prisoners in California but to the conditions in which they are held. Despite a flurry of prison construction in the 1980s that increased the number of penal institutions from 12 to 33, in 2006 its prison population of 172,000 was 200 per cent above design capacity.
And although the supreme court has ordered the state to bring its prisoner population into line with capacity, the state has failed to do so.

The supreme court is not alone is its dissatisfaction with how prisoners are being treated; the prisoners don’t like it either. There were two hunger strikes in 2011: the first involved 6,600 prisoners; the second 11,898 prisoners. Now prisoners are set for a repeat strike, with July 8th as the target date.

Although the prisoners have five demands, life in “secure housing units” and the extensive use of solitary confinement are at the heart of the dispute. About 10,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in California at any one time. Some have been in solitary for up to 40 years, and the average time is seven and a half years.

Pelican Bay State Prison, a supermax, or super-maximum-security jail, holds 1,111 prisoners in isolation. There, in an area designed to minimise human contact and reduce visual stimulation, the windowless units in which the prisoners spend 23 hours a day measure 11ft by 7ft. They are fed through a hatch. For an hour a day they can exercise alone in what is referred to as a “dog run” – an open-air cell measuring 16ft by 25ft.

In 2012 Amnesty International accused California of abusing prisoners’ rights. In August 2011 Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, concluded that even 15 days in solitary confinement constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and 15 days is the limit after which irreversible harmful psychological effects can occur.

Read the rest here 

Prisoners in CA prepare for peaceful protests starting on 7/8, other States’ Prisoners join in Solidarity: WA, LA, OH…

In Louisiana State Prison, Angola, LA, a few prisoners on solitary confinement have announced to their freinds they will fast for the first week of the July 8th 2013 California hunter strike in solidarity.

In Ohio State Penitentiary, a supermax housing amongst others prisoners who were condemned to death and who were given a life sentence following the Lucasville 1993 prison disturbance under very suspicious circumstances, some prisoners have also announced to friends they will fast in solidarity for the first few days. 

This following story comes from the SF Bay View, and shows prisoners from WA in solidarity with those in CA who are being held under extreme and neverending circumstances.

Prisoners in Washington State to join July 8 strike called by California prisoners

From: SF Bay View, June 26, 2013

by Diana George, Free Us All Coalition

Seattle, Washington (June 26, 2013) – Prisoners in the state of Washington will go on strike on July 8, 2013, refusing to work on that day. Some prisoners in Washington, including some in juvenile facilities, have vowed to join the nonviolent strike. The strike’s aim is two-fold: to show support for the hunger strikers in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to join California prisoners in protesting long-term solitary confinement and other human rights abuses in U.S. prisons.

  

The Washington prison strike on July 8 will coincide with hunger strikes and work stoppages at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California, and at least four other prisons in California. The California prisoners’ demands include an end to long-term solitary confinement and to such practices as “gang debriefing.”

To gain release from solitary confinement, California prisoners are pressured to “debrief,” denouncing fellow prisoners as gang members, who are then punished with solitary confinement. Some California prisoners have been held in isolation for more than 30 years; the strike’s aim is to end this torture.

The California prison strikes will be the third such strike to occur in the last three years. On July, 1, 2011, 6,600 prisoners in the state of California went on a nonviolent hunger strike that began in Pelican Bay State Prison and spread to other facilities in the state. Later that year, their demands still unmet, nearly 12,000 California prisoners resumed the hunger strike in September and October 2011.

This year’s call for a strike includes nonviolent work stoppage by prisoners in the general population, alongside the hunger strikes of those prisoners in solitary confinement. In California, as in Washington, work stoppages are slated to include all work, including tasks essential to the day-to-day functioning of the prisons, increasing the strike’s impact.

Diana George of the Free Us All Coalition in Washington can be reached at diana.george@gmail.com. To learn more, she recommends http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/ and http://solitarywatch.com/2013/06/01/gao-report-questions-widespread-use-of-solitary-confinement-in-federal-prisons/.

Corcoran SHU staff told to ignore legal mandate to protect lives of hunger strikers

From: SF Bay View and NCTTCorSHU:

April 22nd 2013

On Monday, April 8, they ran no yard on the 4B Facility in the Corcoran SHU (Security Housing Unit). We of course investigated as to why we were, yet again, denied yard access without explanation and discovered staff had all gone to some sort of “training.”

By chance, or design, one of the NCTT-Cor-SHU coordinators was under escort by two officers who, by happenstance or design, began discussing the nature of this training that would take another two days of additional training to complete:

In preparation for the July 8 peaceful protest action (hunger strike, work stoppage etc.), Corcoran SHU administrators are directing staff to dispense with California law and state procedures and policy regarding mass hunger strikes and instead institute a policy designed to raise the potential for maximum casualties (deaths) amongst prisoner participants, while negating the existence of input data or any health care services monitoring information.

CDCR staff at Corcoran have been directed that there will be no weigh-ins, blood pressure checks or other medical monitoring of hunger strike participants for the duration of the July 8 peaceful protest. Instead, a single officer will be given a video camera to “monitor” participants every few days or so.

The facility will be locked down, a state of emergency enacted and all yard, visits and medical ducats will be suspended. No one will leave the cells. No medical intervention of any kind, including health care services, daily nursing observations and weekly primary care provider evaluations as mandated by California Correctional Health Care Services Policy Manual Inmate Medical Services Policies and Procedures (IMSP&P) Volume 4, Chapter 22.2, will be allowed. [That chapter, “Mass Organized Hunger Strike,” can be read at http://www.cphcs.ca.gov/docs/imspp/IMSPP-v04-ch22.2.pdf.]

In preparation for the July 8 peaceful protest action (hunger strike, work stoppage etc.), Corcoran SHU administrators are directing staff to dispense with California law and state procedures and policy regarding mass hunger strikes and instead institute a policy designed to raise the potential for maximum casualties (deaths) amongst prisoner participants, while negating the existence of input data or any health care services monitoring information.

Once a participant loses consciousness, if he is discovered by staff before he expires (dies), he will then receive medical intervention in the form of force feeding (physician’s order for life sustaining treatment). Once this occurs the participant will be considered no longer on “hunger strike.”

[Editor’s note: According to the IMSP&P hunger strike regulations cited above, health care staff “shall not force feed” a prisoner unless he refuses to say whether he wants to be force fed or is unable to give informed consent. In addition, forced feeding “shall not take place except in a licensed health care facility by licensed clinical staff.” The regulations contradict all the “training” the officers described.]

Our cause is a righteous cause, our peaceful protest to realize the Five Core Demands just and fair. We cannot allow the state to undermine the purpose and impact of these sacrifices.

Many of you may see the obvious contradiction in prison staff being trained by Warden Gipson to intentionally violate the law and health care policy, with the complicity of prison doctors, nurses and technicians, to intentionally jeopardize the lives of peaceful protestors.

But what’s not obvious, and in our opinion most insidious, by willfully preventing input data to even be collected, eliminating visits and confining any proof of the hunger strike to correctional officer videography, CDCR can control the narrative completely.

With plausible deniability pre-structured, this approach allows CDCR to under-report actual hunger strike participant numbers, claim those on hunger strike are actually eating by recording on video non-participants who are eating, releasing the videos to the press characterizing them as hunger strikers who are not actually striking, and do all of this while denying protestors access to mandated health care evaluation and clinical monitoring, ensuring serious injury or death befalls at least some protestors.

When it does, just like with Christian Gomez, they can claim the victim was only hunger striking a day or so and instead died of a “pre-existing medical condition unrelated to the hunger strike.”

That this premeditated violation of their own policy is both illegal and immoral is a given, and in fact of secondary concern. That they are doing so to maintain this domestic torture program, with all its inhumane and arbitrary components intact, at the expense of your tax dollars, our minds, bodies and very souls is what should outrage us all.

Our cause is a righteous cause, our peaceful protest to realize the Five Core Demands just and fair. We cannot allow the state to undermine the purpose and impact of these sacrifices.

We are prepared to die to end great injustice. Should we not be allowed the dignity of these sacrifices being accorded the state’s policy and our opposition acting within the guidelines of their own law?

Criminals are defined not by what they are called, but by what they do. Who are the criminals in this case? The answer is as obvious as the question. All that’s left to be decided is if you will stand idly by as this crime is committed.

A luta continua.

NCTT-Cor-SHU (NCTT stands for the New Afrikan Revolutionary Nation (NARN) Collective Think Tank) is a people’s think tank comprised of New Afrikan (Black) prisoners held in solitary confinement in California’s Corcoran State Prison Security Housing Unit. The mission of the NCTT is to create, develop, review and implement programs, initiatives and concepts with and for individuals, groups and community activists across the U.S. to realize 10 Core Objectives as articulated by the think tank. Learn more and contact the NCTT at ncttcorshu@gmail.com, @NCTTCorSHU, on Facebook and on their website, at ncttcorshu.org.

Prisoners’ families and advocates to speak out at legislative hearing Feb. 25 on solitary confinement and plan to renew hunger strike

From: SF Bay View

Feb 22nd 2013
Rally starts 11:30 Capitol West Side, Assembly Hearing on Security Housing Units in Room 126 at 1:30
by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
[Prisoners’ families and advocates rallied, lobbied and testified frequently during the 2011 hunger strikes. This march was held Oct. 15, as the second hunger strike was concluding after CDCR promised it would meet the prisoners’ demands. That year-and-a-half-old promise has not been kept. – Photo: Bill Hackwell]
Family members, advocates, lawyers, activists and others from across California will travel to Sacramento on Monday to speak out against the state prison system’s continued use of solitary confinement. Hundreds are expected to gather for a rally outside the Capitol Building and will then attend a California State Assembly Public Safety Committee oversight hearing, convened to review the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) “revised regulations” of its notorious Security Housing Units (SHU). The Capitol is located at 1315 10th St. at L Street, Sacramento.
“I went to Pelican Bay earlier this month. Officials presented their case for how the prisoners are being treated, but some questions about conditions remain,” said Public Safety Committee Chair Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco.
The hearing follows up on a 2011 hearing triggered by a prisoner hunger strike to protest conditions. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation promised to study the situation and implemented policy changes in 2012.
Hundreds are expected to gather for a rally outside the Capitol Building and will then attend a California State Assembly Public Safety Committee oversight hearing, convened to review the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) “revised regulations” of its notorious Security Housing Units (SHU).
“As chair of Public Safety, I want to know whether conditions are humane, but I also want to know whether the stringent policies of CDCR are effective,” Ammiano said. “What are the goals and what are the effects? The taxpayers should have this information.”
The hearing will include three panels with the following panelists:
Renee Hanson, California Deputy Inspector General
Michael Stainer, Deputy Director, Division of Adult Institutions, CDCR
Kelly Harrington, Associate Director, High Security/Transitional Programming, CDCR
Michael Ruff, Special Agent in Charge, Office of Correctional Safety, CDCR
Charles Carbone, J.D., Prisoner Rights Attorney
Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
Two family members of current SHU prisoners
This rally preceded the last hearing called by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, held Aug. 23, 2011. Prior to this upcoming hearing Ammiano visited Pelican Bay State Prison to see for himself what prisoners are subjected to. – Photo: Revolution
The hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. in Room 126 of the State Capitol. It can be seen online and on cable on the California Channel.While the CDCR has claimed to have made reforms to its SHU system – how a prisoner ends up in the solitary units, for how long and how they can go about getting released into the general population – prisoners’ rights advocates point out that the CDCR has potentially broadened the use of solitary confinement and that conditions in the SHUs continue to constitute grave human rights violations.
The California prison system currently holds over 10,000 prisoners in solitary confinement units, with dozens having spent more than 20 years each in isolation. Conditions in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU sparked massive waves of hunger strikes in 2011 that saw the participation of 12,000 prisoners in at least a third of California’s 33 prisons.
This rally, held outside CDCR headquarters in Sacramento on July 18, 2011, when 6,600 prisoners had joined the hunger strike begun July 1, amplified striking prisoners’ Five Core Demands. Days later, CDCR prompted suspension of the strike by promising the prisoners their demands would be met. By then, many striking prisoners had lost more than 40 pounds. – Photo: Grant Slater, KPCC
“Prisoners themselves, their loved ones, legal advocates and social justice organizations have done so much in the past couple of years to help people understand that California’s current use of prolonged and indefinite isolation is a form of torture,” says Azadeh Zohrabi of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, a lead organization in the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

“While prisoners and their supporters have forced the CDCR to address the crisis it has created, at the end of the day, their new regulations still allow for prisoners to be confined in extreme isolation for decades. We are converging on the Capitol to continue to push for fundamental changes to this horrendous system.”

Prisoners themselves have vowed to renew a hunger strike along with a work stoppage this summer if their demands from 2011 continue to go unmet by the CDCR. In a statement issued last week, prisoners in Pelican Bay’s SHU said, “It is clear to us that the CDCR has no intention of implementing the substantive policy changes that were agreed to 15 or 16 months ago.”

The statement continues:

“We presently have no available alternative avenues to obtain the long overdue changes, in a timely manner, other than giving the CDCR until July 8, 2013 – as a deadline – to meet our stated demands. Failure to come to a legally enforceable agreement will be deemed as just cause for us to resume our indefinite, nonviolent, peaceful protest action(s) until the changes are made.”

Prisoners themselves have vowed to renew a hunger strike along with a work stoppage this summer if their demands from 2011 continue to go unmet by the CDCR.
Meanwhile, a landmark class action lawsuit against the state of California will continue in federal court on March 14. Filed in May 2012 by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus and other organizations on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay, the suit alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violates prisoners’ right to due process.
Family members and supporters of prisoners held in solitary confinement will be traveling to Sacramento from Los Angeles, the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Monday’s 11:30 a.m. rally will feature signs, banners and lively speakers – former prisoners, their families, prisoners’ rights advocates and others. Expert testimony will also be given during the 1:30 p.m. Public Safety Committee hearing.
In Oakland, carpools will leave the MacArthur BART Station at 8:30 and 9 a.m. In San Francisco, visit Megabus.com right away for bus tickets leaving the Caltrain Station at Fourth Street and King at 8:30 a.m., returning at 5:50 p.m., for less than $5 each way. For more information, visit https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/.
Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, is a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. He can be reached at (510) 444-0484 or isaac@criticalresistance.org. Bay View staff contributed to this story.