California Prisoners End Hunger Strike with Promise of Being Heard

Inmates leading California's largest prison protest ended a two-month hunger strike Thursday without winning major concessions on solitary confinement conditions — their main grievance — but with the promise of legislative hearings on the issue.
September 6, 2013

Inmates leading California's largest prison protest ended a two-month hunger strike Thursday without winning major concessions on solitary confinement conditions — their main grievance — but with the promise of legislative hearings on the issue.

The strike, which began with 30,000 inmates refusing meals and ended with about 100, drew international attention to California's use of prolonged prisoner isolation. It was orchestrated by a few inmates in isolation at Pelican Bay prison near the Oregon border.

By this week, nearly 10 protesters a day were collapsing or otherwise required medical care. On Thursday, prison medical workers sought to move four of the most frail to medical wards, but those inmates refused to go, an official said.

Meanwhile, inmate leaders, even as they agreed to resume eating, said they had merely "suspended" their protest.

"Our goal remains: Force the powers that be to end their torture policies and practices in which serious physical and psychological harm is inflicted on tens of thousands of prisoners, as well as our loved ones outside,'' protest leaders said in a statement released by former state Sen. Tom Hayden, who said he had advised inmates' lawyers on strategy.

Prison officials have insisted that their solitary confinement policies, revised after a series of smaller hunger strikes in 2011, are non-negotiable. But advocates for the inmates said the state had nevertheless agreed to discuss changes in how inmates are housed in those conditions — whether they should be allowed to have drinking cups or typewriters, for example.

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