Nearly 30,000 Prisoners in Hunger Strike Over Solitary Confinement

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A hunger strike has started again in California state prisons in an effort to protest long-term solitary confinement.

In 2011, a similar strike was staged after prisoners wanted to change the rules for solitary confinement.

The five core demands they are asking consist of: eliminating group punishments for individual rules violations, abolishing the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria, complying with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement, providing adequate food, and expanding and providing constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

When the hunger strikes spread in 2011, at least 1,035 of SHU's 1,111 inmates refused to eat. It spanned across thirteen other state prisons and included at least 6,600 people in California. 

While the strike ended because the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation promised to do a comprehensive review of SHU prisoners validated as gang members, prisoners are striking again. They believe that the CDCR did not address any of their demands and they do not plan to stop until their demands are met.

"Once initiated, this protest will continue indefinitely - until all Five (5) Core Demands are fully met," they said. It only took two days for almost 30,000 California prisoners to take part.

Many prisoners are placed in SHU because they are suspected to be involved in jail gangs. It wasn't until recently that gang members were able to be released if they "debrief" or provide information about other prisoners involved in gangs. This leads to many prisoners who are not involved in gangs to be reported as being a member, as SHU inmates simply want to get out.

There are more than one thousand people in SHU and more than half have spent more than ten years there.

Layer Carol Strickman, who negotiated for the inmates during the last hunger strike, said there is no way to officially tell how many inmates are involved in this one. 

"Officials have this bunker mentality, but now it's like a house of cards is falling down," she said. "There have been so many problems for decades, and now they are being forced to deal with them all at once."

Sources: The Nation, NY Times