Prisoners’ families and advocates to speak out at legislative hearing Feb. 25 on solitary confinement and plan to renew hunger strike
Rally starts 11:30 Capitol West Side, Assembly Hearing on Security Housing Units in Room 126 at 1:30; carpooling and bus transportation info below
by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
“I went to Pelican Bay earlier this month. Officials presented their case for how the prisoners are being treated, but some questions about conditions remain,” said Public Safety Committee Chair Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco.
The hearing follows up on a 2011 hearing triggered by a prisoner hunger strike to protest conditions. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation promised to study the situation and implemented policy changes in 2012.
Hundreds are expected to gather for a rally outside the Capitol Building and will then attend a California State Assembly Public Safety Committee oversight hearing, convened to review the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) “revised regulations” of its notorious Security Housing Units (SHU).
“As chair of Public Safety, I want to know whether conditions are humane, but I also want to know whether the stringent policies of CDCR are effective,” Ammiano said. “What are the goals and what are the effects? The taxpayers should have this information.”
The hearing will include three panels with the following panelists:
- Renee Hanson, California Deputy Inspector General
- Michael Stainer, Deputy Director, Division of Adult Institutions, CDCR
- Kelly Harrington, Associate Director, High Security/Transitional Programming, CDCR
- Michael Ruff, Special Agent in Charge, Office of Correctional Safety, CDCR
- Charles Carbone, J.D., Prisoner Rights Attorney
- Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
- Two family members of current SHU prisoners
While the CDCR has claimed to have made reforms to its SHU system – how a prisoner ends up in the solitary units, for how long and how they can go about getting released into the general population – prisoners’ rights advocates point out that the CDCR has potentially broadened the use of solitary confinement and that conditions in the SHUs continue to constitute grave human rights violations.
The California prison system currently holds over 10,000 prisoners in solitary confinement units, with dozens having spent more than 20 years each in isolation. Conditions in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU sparked massive waves of hunger strikes in 2011 that saw the participation of 12,000 prisoners in at least a third of California’s 33 prisons.
“While prisoners and their supporters have forced the CDCR to address the crisis it has created, at the end of the day, their new regulations still allow for prisoners to be confined in extreme isolation for decades. We are converging on the Capitol to continue to push for fundamental changes to this horrendous system.”
Prisoners themselves have vowed to renew a hunger strike along with a work stoppage this summer if their demands from 2011 continue to go unmet by the CDCR. In a statement issued last week, prisoners in Pelican Bay’s SHU said, “It is clear to us that the CDCR has no intention of implementing the substantive policy changes that were agreed to 15 or 16 months ago.”
The statement continues: “We presently have no available alternative avenues to obtain the long overdue changes, in a timely manner, other than giving the CDCR until July 8, 2013 – as a deadline – to meet our stated demands. Failure to come to a legally enforceable agreement will be deemed as just cause for us to resume our indefinite, nonviolent, peaceful protest action(s) until the changes are made.”
Prisoners themselves have vowed to renew a hunger strike along with a work stoppage this summer if their demands from 2011 continue to go unmet by the CDCR.
Meanwhile, a landmark class action lawsuit against the state of California will continue in federal court on March 14. Filed in May 2012 by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus and other organizations on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay, the suit alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violates prisoners’ right to due process.
Family members and supporters of prisoners held in solitary confinement will be traveling to Sacramento from Los Angeles, the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Monday’s 11:30 a.m. rally will feature signs, banners and lively speakers – former prisoners, their families, prisoners’ rights advocates and others. Expert testimony will also be given during the 1:30 p.m. Public Safety Committee hearing.
In Oakland, carpools will leave the MacArthur BART Station at 8:30 and 9 a.m. In San Francisco, visit Megabus.com right away for bus tickets leaving the Caltrain Station at Fourth Street and King at 8:30 a.m., returning at 5:50 p.m., for less than $5 each way. For more information, visit https://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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Bay View staff contributed to this story.