Prisoners across California's state prison system launched a hunger strike on Monday in protest of their conditions, which include long-term solitary confinement, a practice considered by many to be an act of torture.
The strike was initiated by prisoners within the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in Pelican Bay State Prison, but news quickly spread and is now said to include prisoners in facilities across California. Thousands are expected to participate in the hunger strike, which also includes a work stoppage.
On June 20 prisoners from Pelican Bay's SHU released a statement describing their actions and intentions:
The principal prisoner representatives from the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement do hereby present public notice that our nonviolent peaceful protest of our subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture, via long term solitary confinement will resume today, consisting of a hunger strike/work stoppage of indefinite duration until [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] 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).
According to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, 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."
The hunger strike is not the first of its kind in Pelican Bay. In 2011, prisoners in the SHU sparked a massive statewide hunger strike that grew to include 12,000 prisoners in a third of California’s 33 prisons.
Monday's action represents a renewal of that strike, the prisoners say, as neither California Governor Jerry Brown nor the CDCR have lived up to promises made in the resulting 2011 negotiations.
"We are certain that we will prevail…. the only questions being: How many will die starvation-related deaths before state officials sign the agreement?" the prisoners' statement reads, referring to their list of demands.
In response to the hunger strike, the Center for Constitutional Rights, who filed a lawsuit in 2012 on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay, stated today:
We wholeheartedly support the prisoners’ peaceful protest against their long-term isolation in physically and psychologically devastating conditions. As our lawsuit notes, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture has found that more than 15 days of solitary confinement violates human rights standards, yet hundreds of prisoners have been trapped in the Pelican Bay SHU for decades, denied physical contact and social interaction, with effectively no way out. This is undeniably cruel and unusual punishment. As we continue to litigate these issues in court, we applaud the empowering protest undertaken by the prisoners and urge the California Department of Corrections to act swiftly to meet the prisoners’ demands and bring an end to this torture.
Additionally several groups in Palestine have launched "days of action in support of the US hunger strikers in California," in a show of solidarity between Palestinian hunger strikers who have performed ongoing hunger strikes in Israeli prisons—calling for an end to "the similar methods of mass incarceration, abuse and torture inflicted upon them."