California Prisoners Resume Hunger Strike

Inmates say corrections officials aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

Posted: 09/29/2011 02:58 PM EDT
Filed Under Crime

Prisoners in Central and Southern California have resumed a hunger strike in protest of what they say are unfair security measures and inhumane conditions.

On Monday, prisoners resumed a July hunger strike that lasted three weeks and included 6,600 inmates in at least 13 prisons. The July strike came to an end when officials told prisoners that they would comply with some of their demands. However, the prisoners say not enough has been done and called for the hunger strike to resume.

Leading the inmates’ issues is the system’s current method of handling suspected gang members. Prisoners say that many are accused of being participants of prison gangs on false or questionable evidence, and then sent to long-term isolation where an opportunity to rejoin the rest of the population is only given if they provide information on gang activity that is also sometimes false — creating a cycle of unfair and inhumane treatment.

The prisoners are also seeking to end long-term solitary confinement, receive adequate food and gain the ability “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities,” such as taking correspondence courses.

Prison officials however say that they are on track with fulfilling their promises to the prisoners. An official spokesperson said that the corrections agency is reviewing its policies on isolation units and gang security, but the lengthy review and ruling process will take several months. After proposals are reviewed by all stakeholders and a public comment period lapses, the Office of Administrative Law will have to rule on any accepted changes.

Overall, California’s prisons are suffering from chronic overcrowding. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California's state prisons to reduce their populations due to crowding-related conditions deemed cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

California plans to comply with this ruling by Oct. 1 when the state will begin a "public safety realignment," which includes moving criminals convicted of felonies that are non-serious, non-violent or non-sex-related to county jails instead of housing them at state prisons.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, African-Americans make up six percent of the state’s adult population but 29 percent of both the male and female prison population. In 2010, African-American men were incarcerated at a rate of 5,525 per 100,000, compared to 1,146 for Latinos, 671 for non-Hispanic whites and 43 for Asians. Among women, African-Americans were incarcerated at a rate of 342 per 100,000, compared to 57 for Latinas, 66 for non-Hispanic whites and five for Asians.

(Photo: David Silverman/Getty Images)

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