June 30, 2011
by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
As Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day, inmates in solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison are standing up for their rights in the only way they can–by going on hunger strike. The prisoners, who are being held in long-term and often permanent isolation, have sworn to refuse food until conditions are improved in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU).
Built in 1989, Pelican Bay is the nation’s first purpose-built supermax prison, and remains one of its most notorious. Constructed to house 2,280 of California’s “most serious criminal offenders,” Pelican Bay currently holds more than 3,400. About a third of them live in the X-shaped cluster of buildings known as the SHU, which CDCR describes as “a modern design for inmates who are difficult management cases, prison gang members, and violent maximum security inmates.”
NPR’s Laura Sullivan, one of the rare reporters to be granted entry to Pelican Bay, described the SHU in a 2006 report:
(From SolitaryWatch: Drawing in Support of Pelican Bay Hunger Strike by Rashid Johnson, prisoner at Red Onion supermax prison in Virginia)
Read the rest here.