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CDCR calls emergency meeting for hunger strike mediators as prisoner supporters rally outside

April 26, 2012

Supporters and family members will rally at CDCR Headquarters, North Building, 1515 S St., Sacramento, today, Thursday, April 26, 3 p.m.

by Isaac Ontiveros

Families and other supporters of California prisoners in solitary confinement are questioning the state’s strategy in calling this “emergency meeting” when state officials have made no real progress toward meeting the modest demands made a year ago when Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor prisoners called for a hunger strike to begin July 1. The true emergency is that the torture of solitary confinement continues unabated, with retaliation for last year’s strikes on top of the usual abuses, and that unless substantial progress is made, the hunger strike leaders plan to call for a resumption of the strike on this July 1. Prisoners around the state vow to fast to the death if another strike is called and are mentally preparing to die. – Photo: Bill Hackwell
Sacramento – A little over a month after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released its “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy,” which proposes new gang validation and Security Housing Unit (SHU) step down procedures, the department has called a meeting with members of the mediation team advocating on behalf of SHU and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg or ASU) prisoners around the state as well as legislative aides in Sacramento.

Concerns have been raised that the new procedures would actually increase the number of people in the SHU, as the CDCR is recommending an expansion of the seven currently recognized prison gang affiliations to include other security threat groups, as well as broadening its current validation categories.

“Who are the real stakeholders? Prisoners and family members are the people most directly affected by the torture that is solitary confinement,” said Laura Magnani, a member of the mediation team. “Yet they are not being consulted in this process. The mediation team has done its best to respond to the proposal, but meaningful change will require real open participation.”

Though less than 72 hours’ notice was given for Thursday’s meeting, advocates and family members will rally outside CDCR headquarters beginning at 3 p.m. to show their ongoing support for SHU, ASU and Ad-Seg prisoners.

The proposed regulations are the CDCR’s most substantial response so far to the five core demands of thousands of prisoners around the state who engaged in two hunger strikes in 2011. The demands include an end to long term solitary confinement as well as gang validation. SHU sentences are meted out administratively by the CDCR as opposed to a judge, and indeterminate sentences are primarily reserved for those who have been validated as gang members.

The average indeterminate SHU sentence is six years, though some have spent more than 20 years in solitary confinement in California’s SHUs and Ad-Seg units. CDCR’s just released 10-year strategic plan, “The Future of California Corrections,” fails to address changes in SHU policies, further calling into question the sincerity of their plans. In response to the CDCR “Security Threat Group Prevention” proposal, one prisoner held in the Pelican Bay SHU said, “This document is a representation of the ongoing contradictions and inhumane treatment of prisoners held specifically in solitary confinement which has the potential to affect all state prisoners, women and men.”

While the CDCR has not set a public agenda for this meeting, there is hope that this will be an opportunity specifically for legislative offices to push CDCR to make meaningful changes. “Legislative aides from a number of offices, including the Assembly Public Safety Committee, will be in attendance,” says Azadeh Zohrabi, a member of the mediation team. “We’re hoping that they take this chance to ask the tough questions and demand answers that will bring relief to prisoners being subjected to inhumane conditions daily.” For more information and updates, visit www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.

Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, is a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. He can be reached at (510) 444-0484 or isaac@criticalresistance.org.

 

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