20 days ago, people incarcerated within the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of
California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, declared the start of a hunger strike to
force the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) to publicly recognize
years of torture and abuse. Since then, at least 6,000 prisoners in SHUs
and from the general populations in 13 prisons have gone on hunger strike. The
hunger strike has been organized by prisoners in an inspiring show of unity
across prison-manufactured racial and geographical lines. The changes the
strikers are demanding are standard procedures in other Supermax prisons
(including federal prisons in Florence, Colorado, and Ohio), supporting the
strikers’ position that CDCR’s claim of such demands being a threat to safety
and security are exaggerations. It has been reported that the health of
some strikers is rapidly deteriorating, but the CDCR has refused to negotiate
with the strikers.
For too long, our loved ones have returned home from state prison as broken men and
women, permanently impacting the health and progress of our families and
communities. When we tolerate the inhuman treatment of our fathers, mothers,
uncles, aunts, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters inside state prisons,
then we allow for that same treatment to spread unchecked to our schools and
communities. In light of realignment conversations, we push “Welcome Home
LA”, a plan that provides an alternate vision for a humane treatment for all
people in prisons and returning to community. As the County debates
between the Sheriff’s Department and the Probation Department, the YJC proposes
that community who have already been taking care of people coming home in a
dignified way should continue to do it.
The United Nations and international justice courts have ruled that long-term isolation and sensory deprivation are torture, yet many people are subjected to it in
California prisons. People in the SHU can be held for indefinite periods for
alleged “gang” affiliation, which is arbitrarily determined by the guards with
no appeal process. In a statement of support, people held in the SHU at
California’s Corcoran State Prison wrote: "What is of note here and
something that should concern all U.S. citizens, is the increasing use of
behavioral control - torture units and human experimental techniques - against
prisoners, not only in California but across the nation. Indefinite confinement,
sensory deprivation, withholding food, constant illumination and use of
unsubstantiated lies from informants are the psychological billy clubs being
used in these torture units. The purpose of this ‘treatment’ is to stop
prisoners from standing in opposition to inhumane prison conditions and prevent
them from exercising their basic human rights.”
The strikers outlined five core demands to end the inhumane conditions and
1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse – This includes the administration’s
abusive, pre-textual use of “safety and concern” to justify what are unnecessary
punitive acts. This policy has been applied in the context of justifying
indefinite SHU status, and progressively restricting our programming and
2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria
- Perceived gang membership is one of the leading reasons for placement in solitary confinement.
• The practice of “debriefing,” or offering up information about fellow prisoners particularly regarding gang status, is often demanded in return for better food or release
from the SHU. Debriefing puts the safety of prisoners and their families at risk, because they are then viewed as “snitches.”
• The validation procedure used by the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation (CDCR) employs such criteria as tattoos, readings materials, and
associations with other prisoners (which can amount to as little as greeting) to
identify gang members.
• Many prisoners report that they are validated as gang members with evidence that is clearly false or using procedures that do not follow the Castillo v. Alameida settlement which restricted the use of photographs to prove association.
3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006
Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement – CDCR shall
implement the findings and recommendations of the US commission on safety and
abuse in America’s prisons final 2006 report regarding CDCR SHU facilities as
• End Conditions of Isolation (p. 14) Ensure that prisoners in SHU and Ad-Seg (Administrative Segregation) have regular meaningful contact and freedom from extreme physical deprivations that are known to cause lasting harm. (pp. 52-57)
• Make Segregation a Last Resort (p. 14). Create a more productive form of confinement in the areas of allowing inmates in SHU and Ad-Seg [Administrative Segregation] the opportunity to engage in meaningful self-help treatment, work, education, religious, and other productive activities relating to having a sense of being a part of the community.
• End Long-Term Solitary Confinement. Release inmates to general prison population who have been warehoused indefinitely in SHU for the last 10 to 40 years (and counting).
• Provide SHU Inmates Immediate Meaningful Access to: i) adequate natural sunlight ii) quality health care and treatment, including the mandate of transferring all
PBSP- SHU inmates with chronic health care problems to the New Folsom Medical
4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food – cease the practice of denying adequate food,
provide a wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals, and allow
inmates to purchase additional vitamin supplements.
• PBSP staff must cease their use of food as a tool to punish SHU inmates.
• Provide a sergeant/lieutenant to independently observe the serving of each meal, and ensure each tray has the complete issue of food on it.
• Feed the inmates whose job it is to serve SHU meals with meals that are separate from the pans of food sent from kitchen for SHU meals.
5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates. Examples include:
Expand visiting regarding amount of time and adding one day per week.
• Allow one photo per year and a weekly phone call.
• Allow Two (2) annual packages per year. A 30 lb. package based on “item” weight and not packaging and box weight.
• Expand canteen and package items allowed. Allow us to have the items in their original packaging [the cost for cosmetics, stationary, envelopes, should not count towards the max draw limit]
• Allow TV/Radio combinations, or TV and small battery operated radio, along with more TV channels.
Allow Hobby Craft Items – art paper, colored pens, small pieces of colored
pencils, watercolors, chalk, etc.
• Allow sweat suits, watch caps, and wall calendars.
• Install pull-up/dip bars on SHU yards.
• Allow correspondence courses that require proctored exams.