Inmate hunger strike expands to more California prisons
Inmates in at least a third of California's prisons are
believed to be refusing meals in solidarity with
maximum-security prisoners at Pelican Bay.
By Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times
July 6, 2011
Inmates in at least 11 of California's 33 prisons are
refusing meals in solidarity with a hunger strike staged
by prisoners in one of the system's special
maximum-security units, officials said Tuesday.
The strike began Friday when inmates in the Security
Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison stopped eating
meals in protest of conditions that they contend are cruel
"There are inmates in at least a third of our prisons who
are refusing state-issued meals," said Terry Thornton, a
spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections
The number of declared strikers at Pelican Bay — reported
Saturday as fewer than two dozen — has grown but is
changing daily, she said. The same is true at other
Some inmates are refusing all meals, while others are
rejecting only some, Thornton said. Some were eating in
visitation rooms and refusing state-issued meals in their
cells, she said.
Assessing the number of actual strikers "is very
challenging," Thornton said.
Prison medical staff are "making checks of every single
inmate who is refusing meals," she said.
More than 400 prisoners at Pelican Bay are believed to be
refusing meals, including inmates on the prison's
general-population yard, said Molly Poizig, spokeswoman
for the Bay Area-based group Prisoner Hunger Strike
The group had received reports on the strike from lawyers
and family members visiting inmates over the weekend, she
The group's website claims that prison officials attempted
to head off the strike by promoting a Fourth of July menu
that included strawberry shortcake and ice cream.
According to the website, the wife of a Security Housing
Unit inmate said her husband had never had ice cream there
and "has never seen a strawberry."
Inmates at Calipatria State Prison — with more than a
thousand prisoners — were among those reported to be
refusing meals, Poizig said. Prison officials could not be
reached for comment.
But Thornton acknowledged that inmates at the prison were
refusing to eat state-issued meals.
The strike was organized by Security Housing Unit inmates
at Pelican Bay protesting the maximum-security unit's
extreme isolation. The inmates are also asking for better
food, warmer clothing and to be allowed one phone call a
The Security Housing Unit compound, which currently houses
1,100 inmates, is designed to isolate prison-gang members
or those who've committed crimes while in prison.
The cells have no windows and are soundproofed to inhibit
communication among inmates. The inmates spend 22 1/2
hours a day in their cells, being released only an hour a
day to walk around a small area with high concrete walls.
Prisoner advocates have long complained that Security
Housing Unit incarceration amounts to torture, often
leading to mental illness, because many inmates spend
years in the lockup.
Gang investigators believe the special unit reduces the
ability of the most predatory inmates, particularly
prison-gang leaders, to control those in other prisons as
well as gang members on the street.
Prison administrators are meeting with inmate advisory
councils to discuss the inmates' complaints, Thornton
But "I have not heard there's been any decision" to modify
policies governing the Security Housing Unit, she said. "A
lot of those policies have been refined through
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