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Since 2011, prisoners at California's Pelican Bay State Prison, near the Oregon border, have protested the use of prolonged isolation. Though the original protests ended two years ago, this Monday prisoners at Pelican Bay resumed their hunger strike.
Kamau Walton, a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, stated: "I would say if the demands have been met, they wouldn't be going on a hunger strike... People don't starve themselves for no reason," CNN reported.
The major grievance is the use of long-term solitary confinement and a "debriefing policy" where, in order to get out of solitary confinement, prisoners must provide information on prison gangs, according to CNN.
On Monday, the protest began with 30,000 inmates refusing meals. But by Thursday, the total number of inmates was down to 12,421, since the official definition of hunger strike requires the refusal of nine consecutive meals.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) stated that the protest spread to 24 state prisons and four contract facilities located out-of-state. The New York Times reports that the inmates' list of demands has expanded to include warmer clothing, better food, cleaner prison facilities, better mattresses, and more access to the prison library.
In addition to the hunger strike, approximately 1,300 other inmates have begun skipping classes and work assignments. The CDCR noted that the hunger strike is organized by prison gangs and to protect inmate safety, is not publicizing participation levels at specific prisons.
The CDCR cited California Code of Regulations, Title 15, Section 3323(h)(A) and Section 3323(f)(7), which prohibit mass disturbances and refusal of work assignments. The CDCR is also ready to impose disciplinary actions on inmates who lead or perpetuate a disturbance under California Code of Regulations, Title 15 Section 3315(a)(2)(L).
The CDCR defended its actions and stated that they have followed through on reforms to reduce long term solitary confinement for non-gang related activity by relying on documented behavior. It also noted that it had begun a review of inmates in solitary confinement. To date, CDCR has transferred (or approved the transfer of) 208 prisoners into the general population.
These actions are not enough for the inmates who continue to refuse meals. One of the 2011 hunger strikes lasted three weeks, so it appears this strike may continue for a while. We only hope the protests remain peaceful and do not degenerate into violence.