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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Police State and Prisons
Prisoner Hunger Strike Day 53: Statement from the Mediation Team
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” - Albert Einstein
50 days into a hunger strike which was announced last December, the Department of Corrections has just now issued a highly deceptive and problematic response to the prisoners’ demands. The gist of the response was that the CDCR has done all that it plans to do and that the rest is non-negotiable. The reply was not directed at the prisoners themselves or the prisoners’ mediation team; instead, it was issued as a press release on the CDCR’s website late Monday afternoon. It is not clear if the CDCR has shared the response to the demands with the prisoners.
The CDCR’s statement assures the public that it has addressed the prisoners’ demands while continuing to assert that solitary confinement does not exist in California. The state’s repeated denial of the problem and lack of willingness to implement necessary changes is dangerous and irresponsible.
Prisoners have used every means available to them to change the policies that result in them being confined in extreme isolation for decades including the CDCR’s internal grievance system, meetings with Wardens, litigation and multiple hunger strikes. In 2001 they went on hunger strike over these same issues and called off the strike when CDCR promised to make changes. In 2002, they resumed their hunger strike when CDCR did not make the changes it promised to make. Since 2002, prisoners have filed numerous lawsuits against the conditions in the SHU; many have won settlements with the courts. One notable settlement was the Castillo settlement which was applauded by many as a meaningful reform which clarified the requirement that validated prisoners would not be housed in the SHU indefinitely without having engaged in actual gang related activity rather than innocuous association or possession of books and art which the CDCR labeled “gang activity”. Under this agreement, the CDCR was required to do reviews every 6 years to determine whether a validated prisoner was an “active” gang member. If there was no evidence of “activity” then the CDCR was required to release the prisoner to General Population. The CDCR has held the six year “inactive reviews only to rubber stamp their original status – arbitrarily alleging gang “activity” where none existed. The same discretion can be applied to the Department’s new, proposed policies.
While the rest of the nation is moving away from the use of solitary confinement, California seems to be stuck in the dark – keeping more prisoners in solitary than any other state and for much longer than any other state. The CDCR says that the hunger strike was not a proper way for prisoners to resolve their grievances. What other options did the prisoners have? CDCR doesn’t even follow court orders or settlements that it agrees to and there is no mechanism in place to ensure accountability and compliance. Even now as the CDCR keeps repeating the message that they are “doing the right thing” by slowly releasing dozens of people from the SHU, they are working to finalize new policies that would expand the number of people who can be sent to the SHU and still allow for indefinite isolation for people who have not engaged in any gang behavior while in prison. It is no surprise that the prisoners went back on hunger strike.
Behind closed doors, CDCR will admit that many of the demands are reasonable and that the hunger strike reps are among the easiest for them to deal with. In the public sphere, CDCR administration has demonized these men and subjected them to retaliation, dangerous housing conditions, inadequate medical care, and coercive tactics in order to break up the strike and the unity of those who are participating in the strike. As a meditation team, we’ve been dealing with an administration that has become increasingly callous and cowardly, watching these men suffer and get close to death. There has been virtually no opportunity to explore options which would address the concerns of both parties.
California cannot just ignore this problem, hoping that it will go away. The way to make the hunger strikes go away is to deal with the issues responsibly – meet with the reps and come to an agreement. Otherwise, the CDCR will only be repeating this cycle over and over again in an insane attempt to subdue any efforts to create necessary changes with extreme violence and repression. This cannot be tolerated any longer. It is time to break the cycle and to deal with this strike and the issue of solitary confinement responsibly and reasonably.
On behalf of the Mediation Team,
Azadeh Zohrabi, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children
Hunger Strike Mediation Team
Dr. Ronald Ahnen, California Prison Focus and St. Mary’s College of California
Barbara Becnel, Occupy4Prisoners.org
Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
Irene Huerta, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC)
Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
Marilyn McMahon, California Prison Focus
Carol Strickman, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children
Azadeh Zohrabi, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children
Governor Brown wants to spend billions of dollars for prison expansion and use the budget surplus to do this. Instead of utilizing real population reduction strategies like expanding good time credits, implement elder prisoner parole, and countless others he wants to waste more taxpayer money.
If they think that we’ll sit by and watch a thousand more people from our communities get locked up, we need to prove them wrong!
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