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Pelican Bay prisoners named as plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the use of solitary confinement in California gained an important victory yesterday. U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of a motion allowing prisoners who have been in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, but have been transferred out of Pelican Bay State Prison since the lawsuit was first filed, to remain eligible as class members in the case.
In the last two months – from Dec. 27 to Feb. 10, 2015 – four prisoners have died here at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, a private prison California uses to relieve its prison overcrowding; it is owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, CCA. These lives were lost due to indifference, unprofessionalism and lack of adequate training.
It has been two years since our Agreement to End Hostilities was released in October 2012, and we continue to stand united. While there have been a few conflicts here and there, we need to commit to ceasing all racial hostilities towards one another and remain peacefully united throughout all prison facilities. By re-reading and re-committing ourselves to the Agreement to End Hostilities, we are taking back control of our own lives and our own futures.
We are the prisoner class representatives of what’s become known as the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement. Last month we marked the first anniversary of the end of our historic 60-day Hunger Strike. Oct. 10 we mark the two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities. This is an update on where things stand with our struggle to achieve major reforms beneficial to prisoners, outside loved ones and society in general.
One year ago, on July 8, 2013, 30,000 California prisoners initiated the largest hunger strike the world has ever seen. Sixty days later, 40 prisoners, who had eaten nothing in all that time, agreed to suspend the strike when state legislators promised to hold hearings on ending solitary confinement, the heart of their demands. The 2013 hunger strike followed two in 2011. In the interim, effective October 2012, the hunger strike leaders, representing all racial groups, issued the historic Agreement to End Hostilities, which has held with few exceptions throughout the California prison system ever since.
Men at Calipatria on general population yards A, B and C can show the same courage as the hunger strikers, who are honored around the world, by pledging to respect the Agreement to End Hostilities and stop all fighting and riots between racial groups. The Agreement must continue to hold within all California prisons and unity needs to spread across the state. Only then can justice be won.
In mid-June, Gov. Brown signed the Budget Act of 2015, which shows no vision for the future of most Californians. In total, this budget underestimated the amount of resources available, overestimated the cost of vital programs, and chose spending on debt service, rainy day funds and prisons instead of the people of California and the vital services they need.
Members of the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, including (among others) the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, BART workers and AC Transit bus drivers, were appalled to hear that the Oakland Unified School District succumbed to pressure from the Fraternal Order of Police and the right-wing Fox News by shutting down the educational Urban Dreams website, which includes material on Mumia Abu-Jamal and Martin Luther King Jr.
On July 8, 2013, 30,000 prisoners of the California prison system – and hundreds more across the United States – refused meals to take a stand about the conditions of prisoners in the various forms of solitary isolation – approximately 14,000 human beings in California alone. It was the third hunger strike in California in two years. Dozens of prisoners deprived themselves of solid food for 60 days. One prisoner died.
Tomorrow, California lawmakers will hold a hearing about the use of solitary confinement inside its state prison system. February marks seven months since people incarcerated throughout California embarked on the mass hunger strike that has drawn legislative attention to prison conditions. The CDCR released new proposed regulations around its gang policies, and it points to changes already made. Accounts from former hunger strikers suggest that change is slow in coming.
The Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement wrote 40 supplemental demands to detail what prisoners are entitled to and need to have re-instated. In responding to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitaion’s response to our 40 supplemental demands, I would like to get into the actual details of what the CDCr is and is not saying in response to prisoners.
Since some 30,000 California prisoners launched a hunger strike July 8 against the practice of long-term solitary confinement and other abuses, participants have faced punitive retaliation and censorship of newspapers and other media that backed their fight. Abuses continued after prisoners suspended the strike Sept. 5.
Gov. Jerry Brown, good ol’ boy of the 21st century prison industrial slave complex, your silence does not excuse you for your crimes against our humanity. You are an overseer of CDCr prisons and we have evidence that clearly shows prisoners have been murdered, beaten and tortured throughout these solitary confinement units by CDCr officials who are subordinate to you.
On Sept. 26, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged a federal judge to grant class action status to a lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement in California prisons. The case, Ashker v. Brown, was filed on behalf of 10 prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent over 10 years, and as many as 29 years, in solitary confinement.
The reality right now is that Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano have basically said that there has to be change. Now the people have to get behind these two politicians and make sure that they are empowered to make that change possible: Relieve prisoners of their on-going suffering inside these solitary confinement units that serve no purpose whatsoever.
On Wednesday, faith, health and human services, housing, education and criminal justice reform advocates will have a press conference and rally at the State Building, 300 South Spring St., calling on the Legislature to immediately reduce the prison population and invest tax dollars in programs that create healthy and safe communities.
“It is now time to return the control of our prison system to California,” says Gov. Brown. We say it’s time to return California’s criminal justice system to a sense of human dignity and social justice. We call upon the governor and Legislature to immediately sit down at the bargaining table with representatives of the current prison hunger strike and enter into meaningful negotiations before prisoners die or suffer irreparable damage to their health. Stop the political posturing and name-calling, and start negotiating before there is blood on your hands.
California prisoner hunger strike advocates and supporters continue their efforts to compel state decision makers to negotiate with hunger strikers as they endure their 52nd day without food. Meanwhile, legal observers at Corcoran State Prison say that the 70 people still on strike at that facility are facing harsh retaliation by prison officials, including the denial of medical care and the confiscation of personal property.
Green Party members are issuing an urgent call for Gov. Jerry Brown to negotiate with California prisoners. Greens are demanding that Gov. Brown and prison officials lift the wall of secrecy and let reporters in to speak to the prisoners, photograph them and record their voices.
More and more political leaders are speaking out as dozens of California prisoners complete six weeks of a hunger strike and others are working behind the scenes to urge Gov. Brown to negotiate before more men die. It shouldn’t take a hunger strike to bring an end to the current over-reliance on the use of solitary confinement in California prisons.