Thanks to Kersplebedeb for this notice of the upcoming hunger strike at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California. Anywhere between 50 to 100 prisoners in the “Security Housing Unit” are vowing to strike to the death if their demands are not met. As reported below, these very, very modest demands are no more than what is already provided other SuperMax facilities in the U.S.
July 1 Hunger Strike at Pelican Bay State Prison (2011)
On July 1, 2011, between 50 and 100 prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison in the Security Housing Unit (SHU), Corridor D, are going on an indefinite hunger strike. The D corridor (also known as the “short” corridor) has the highest level of restricted incarceration in the state of California and among the most severe conditions in the united states. The rules of their confinement are extremely harsh in order to force them to “debrief” or offer up information about criminal or prison gang activity of other prisoners. Most inmates in the SHU are not members or associates of prison gangs, as the PBSP staff claims, and even those who are put their lives and the lives of their families and other prisoners at risk if they debrief.
Using conditions of severe mental and physical harm in order to force prisoners into confessing is torture! Many debriefers simply make up information about other prisoners just to escape the isolation units. This misinformation is then used to validate other prisoners as members or associates of prison gangs who in reality have nothing to do whatsoever with gang activity.
These are the five core demands of the hunger-striking prisoners:
- Eliminate group punishments. Instead, practice individual accountability. When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race. This policy has been applied to keep prisoners in the SHU indefinitely and to make conditions increasingly harsh.
- Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. Prisoners are accused of being active or inactive participants of prison gangs using false or highly dubious evidence, and are then sent to longterm isolation (SHU). They can escape these tortuous conditions only if they “debrief,” that is, provide information on gang activity. Debriefing produces false information (wrongly landing other prisoners in SHU, in an endless cycle) and can endanger the lives of debriefing prisoners and their families.
- Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement. This bipartisan commission specifically recommended to “make segregation a last resort” and “end conditions of isolation.” Yet as of May 18, 2011, California kept 3,259 prisoners in SHUs and hundreds more in Administrative Segregation waiting for a SHU cell to open up. Some prisoners have been kept in isolation for more than thirty years.
- Provide adequate food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food that do not conform to prison regulations. There is no accountability or independent quality control of meals.
- Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates. The hunger strikers are pressing for opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities…” Currently these opportunities are routinely denied, even if the prisoners want to pay for correspondence courses themselves. Examples of privileges the prisoners want are: one phone call per week, and permission to have sweatsuits and watch caps. (Often warm clothing is denied, though the cells and exercise cage can be bitterly cold.) All of the privileges mentioned in the demands are already allowed at other SuperMax prisons (in the federal prison system and other states).
This widespread hunger strike has the potential to become the most significant event in California prison reform in the last decade. Public support is crucial. Outside support work will be coordinated by California Prison Focus and other groups – visit their website here!
Please check out the below “Key Documents”, provided by Ed Mead, editor of Prison Focus magazine (and a former political prisoner himself). While all the documents are relevant, the first two (“Formal Complaint” and “Final Notice”) contain the essential information.
If you are in contact with any California prisoners it is urged that you let them know that outside support groups are drafting litigation to contest the constitutional validity of certain CDCR practices inside California’s Security Housing Units. And that any prisoner having information on this subject, or who is seeking to learn more about this law suit, should use confidential legal mail to contact:
Attorney at Law
PO Box 5187
If you can think of any other documents or information missing from this list, please let me know. For inquiries and most up to date information, please contact California Prison Focus or visit the section of their site devoted to the hunger strike.
- Formal Complaint
Laying out the conditions at Pelican Bay, and demanding remedy.
- Final Notice: PBSP SHU D-Corridor Hunger Strike
Final notice and demands of July 1st hunger strike.
- Letter of Clarification
from Todd Ashker
- Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Units Peaceful Protest Hunger Strike Starting July 1, 2011
by Pelican Bay prisoners James Crowford and Mutop DuGuya (a/k/a Bow Low)
- Using Penal Code Section 2933.6 to Expand Due Process Rights for Validated Inmated: A Guide to Action
- Flier announcing hunger strikeProduced by Montreal comrades, bilingual (french/english), letter size.
- PBSP Food Strike Flyer and Example LetterFlier and sample letter to the warden, produced by Under Lock & Key/MIM(Prisons) in May. In english only.
- Hungerstrike FlierProduced by California Prison Focus, in english only.
- Online Petition to Support Prisoners on Hunger Strike at Pelican Bay State PrisonAm not a big fan of internet petitions, but i encourage you to take this one as a personal pledge to do something in the real world (i.e. not online) to support the hunger-striking prisoners.
Letters from Prisoners & Others
- May Letter from Arturo Castellano
A letter from one of the prisoners planning on hunger striking this July 1.
- July 1 Pelican Bay SHU Food Strike to Protest Inhuman Isolation
May 2011 letter from one of the prisoners planing on going on hunger strike, asking people to write letters and hold candlelight vigils on July 1. From Under Lock & Key/MIM(Prisons).
- The call: Hunger strike to begin July 1Article by Mutope Duguma (s/n James Crawford) which appeared in the San Francisco Bay View on June 3, 2011.
This is the page maintained by MIM(Prisons) in support of the July 1 hunger strike.
- Pelican Bay Prison Project
Dedicated to the men incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison, and to their families and friends.
- California Prison in Focus
an excellent group doing work for prisoners’ rights in that state, and coordinating outside support for the July 1, 2011, hunger strike
- CDCR Policy on Inmate Hunger StrikesOfficial California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (sic!) policy on how to deal with hunger strikes.
- 2001 Hunger-Strike ReportDemocracy Now radio report on 2001 hunger strike at Pelican Bay, which was suspended after a State Senator called for negotiations with prison management.
- “The Proliferation of Control Unit Prisons in the United States”from Journal of Prisoners on Prisons Vol. 4 No. 2 (1993). Not specifically about PBSP, but certainly related.
- The Crime of punishment: Pelican Bay Maximum Security Prisonfrom the book “Criminal Injustice” edited by Elihu Rosenblatt (South End Press 1996)
- Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (S.H.U.)An account by a California prisoner.
- Inside Pelican Bay State Prisonby Rahula Janowski, Clamor magazine July/august 2001 (#9).
- Censorship at Pelican Bay State PrisonUnder Lock & Key September 2008
- At Pelican Bay Prison, a Life in Solitaryby Laura Sullivan from NPR.
California Prison Focus
1904 Franklin Street, Suite 507
Oakland, CA 94612
The Kersplebedeb website is in support of the goals of the hungerstriking prisoners, and of California Prison Focus, but is a completely separate project, and CFP and the prisoners in question are in no way responsible for or necessarily in agreement with anything here. If you see any links or resources you think would belong on this page, please get in touch!