Hunger Strike at Pelican Bay State Prison

Via Politics in the Zeros we've learned that sixty inmates at California's Pelican Bay Prison are on their third week of a hunger strike.

"Lawyers for the inmates say they are protesting the Department of Corrections' practice of isolating prisoners believed to be gang members in harsh segregation units, where they are denied most privileges and are rarely let out of their windowless cells."

"Under state regulations, male convicts determined to be gang members or associates may be sent to a security housing unit at Pelican Bay or at prisons in Corcoran and Tehachapi."

"Their term of isolation in the unit is indefinite, and the only routes out are to be released on, to inform on other gang members through an elaborate debriefing process or to demonstrate no evidence of gang activity for six years."

Some inmates have been wrongly identified as gang members. Once placed in the unit as a gang member, it is very difficult to get out. Attorneys complain that under current rules, the gang member doesn't have to engage in any illegal activity but can be punished for mere association with a gang member.

"They want the state to change its policy to require that only an inmate who engages in overt gang-related misconduct be labeled a member and punished with an indefinite term in a security housing unit."

"The way it is now, you don't actually have to do anything wrong ... you just have to associate with the wrong people," said Charles Carbone, a San Francisco attorney aiding the hunger strikers."

The conditions at Pelican Bay border on the intolerable, according to one federal judge.

"The 1,154 unit inmates spend about 23 hours a day in 8-by-10-foot cells, released only to exercise daily and to shower three times a week. Contact with other inmates and guards is almost nonexistent. The doors are opened by remote control and meals are pushed through slots in the wall."

For more on the conditions, read Visit to Pelican Bay State Torture Chamber.

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