California Prisoners Face Retaliation From Guards as Hunger Strike Grows

Reports range from withholding medication to denying family and lawyer visits.

The hunger strike that started in July at the Secure Housing Unit at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison has spread throughout the state and even to facilities in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. The prisoners went on strike to protest inhumane prison policies, including one that allowed nearly half of Pelican Bay’s 1,111 prisoners to be held in solitary confinement for more than 10 years. Prisoners now say they face harsh retaliation from guards as the strike wages on.


Families of inmates have been denied visits to Pelican Bay, according to Jay Donohue of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS), a grassroots group of supporters based in the Bay Area. “Their visits for the weekend were not allowed, and they’ve been told that they won’t be at all until the strike ends,” Donohue told Color Lines. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) also expelled two attorneys chosen by inmates to represent them on the mediation team that has been in negotiations with the CDCR since July. On its blog, the PHSS lists reports of retaliation upon striking prisoners, including prison guards delivering liquids on the food trays to those who choose to take a meal and denying medication. One hunger striker at Pelican Bay suffered from a heart attack and was taken to an outside hospital in Oregon, the group says. Excessively harsh write-ups and reports of guards raiding inmates' cells are also among the complaints.


The prisoners have expressed a list of demands to be met by the CDCR. Among them include opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities,” the end of group punishments and more nutritious food choices that are monitored for sanitary conditions and adequacy.


The federal receiver's office confirms nearly 12,000 prisoners have refused meals as of Oct. 2, about double of what was reported in July. That month the strike was briefly suspended before re-launching on Sept. 26. Prisoner advocacy group California Correctional Crisis posted a memo from the CDCR, released on Sept. 27, in which the agency writes it has authorized items such as exercise equipment and wall calendars at Pelican Bay, but that “the policy review and change will take several more months to implement.” A second memo details the crackdown on participating inmates since the summer.

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