Calif. Prisoners Call Off Hunger Strike as Lawmakers Plan Hearings
On Thursday, inmates at California state prisons called off a two-month hunger strike protesting the use of security housing units for indefinite isolation of certain prisoners, the New York Times reports (Lovett, New York Times, 9/5).
In July, 30,000 inmates began refusing meals as part of the protest.
Members of the hunger strike -- organized by inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison -- sought a five-year limit on such isolation, as well as new educational and rehabilitation programs.
In August, a federal judge approved a request from prison officials and the Prison Law Office to have authority to force-feed inmates when they are at risk of "near-term death or great bodily injury" or when they are deemed incompetent to make their own medical decisions.
Liz Gransee -- a spokesperson for the court-appointed federal receiver overseeing prison health care in California -- said prisoners participating in the strike were monitored daily and seen by a physician at least once each week.
The state did not invoke its ability to force-feed inmates (California Healthline, 9/4).
Details of Announcement
Organizers of the prison hunger strike on Wednesday voted to suspend the protest. The move came after California lawmakers last week announced that they would hold hearings this fall on the use of solitary confinement in state prisons in response to the strike (St. John, Los Angeles Times, 9/5).
In a statement, organizers of the hunger strike said that many of their demands were not met and that they will continue to push for changes in the prison system.
"From our perspective, we've gained a lot of positive ground towards achieving our goals," the organizers said, adding, "However, there's still much to be done. Our resistance will continue to build and grow until we have won our human rights."
Anne Weills -- an attorney for some of the prisoners leading the strike -- said the inmates felt "buoyed" by lawmakers' decision to hold the hearings. In addition, she said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials have promised to meet with prisoners this month to discuss their demands (New York Times, 9/5).
As of Wednesday, 100 inmates still were refusing food as part of the strike, including 40 who had done so continuously since the protest began on July 8.
All inmates participating in the strike began eating again on Wednesday, according to prison officials (Thompson/Elias, AP/U-T San Diego, 9/5).
However, prisoners' health still could be in danger because a sudden influx of calories after fasting can be fatal, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Joyce Hayhoe -- a legislative liaison for J. Clark Kelso, federal overseer of California's prisons -- said, "Right now is the critical time for our medical staff to ensure the process of reintroducing inmates to normal food."
Hayhoe said officials have been "planning for this day now for several weeks" and will closely monitor inmates who participated in the strike (Los Angeles Times, 9/5).
According to Hayhoe, no inmates have died as a result of the strike (Dobuzinskis, Reuters, 9/5).
Beard said the department will "continue to implement the substantive reforms" that began after a separate prison hunger strike that took place two years ago (New York Times, 9/5).
Dana Simas, a CDCR spokesperson, said state officials have "met and exceeded" prisoners' demands, such as by allowing them to leave solitary housing if they renounce gang activity.
However, Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) -- who called for the hearings on solitary confinement -- said, "[N]ow it's time to move forward and see what are the root causes" behind the hunger strike (White, Sacramento Bee, 9/5).
Headlines and links to broadcast coverage of the decision to halt the hunger strike are provided below.
- "Prison Hunger Strike Ends, Inmates’ Health Still at Risk" (Aliferis, "State of Health," KQED, 9/5).
- "California Prison Hunger Strike Ends After Two Months" (Adler, “KXJZ News,” Capital Public Radio, 9/5).