HANDOUT MATERIALS for Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement

Reblogged on Californiaprisonwatch.org

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Beginning in April 2015, if you need copies sent to you of any of these materials for use in your actions, please contact phssreachingout@gmail.com.

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The above links allow you to download and print the two materials made specifically for anyone participating in Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (23rd of each month). Below are several download links for recommended materials to hand out during such actions.  Good educational materials. Coming soon: a handout of Frequently Asked Questions and the Answers, and all handouts in Spanish & English.

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The way forward to end solitary confinement torture: Where’s the army?

January 25, 2015

by Todd Ashker, in: SF Bay View

On the subject of SHU and Ad-Seg constituting torture, for those of us who may not be familiar with the specifics and in light of CDCr’s steady stream of propaganda – saying, “We don’t operate any solitary confinement units or cells in the California penal system, nor do we torture anyone” – here’s a summary of relevant facts supporting our position that these SHU and Ad-Seg units and the operations thereof are designed (modeled) after techniques designed to break political prisoners as a control mechanism. They are intended to break prisoners via coercive persuasion into becoming state informants.

I’ll begin by asking you a simple question?

Why is it that CDCr is able to get away with portraying PBSP SHU (Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit) prisoners as the “worst of the worst” sub-human monsters ever encountered in modern times as justification for their policies and practices of treating said prisoners as sub-human via decades of what is clearly a form of solitary confinement with sensory deprivation – and yet, as soon as these men agree to become state stooges via debriefing, they are no longer a threat and are released to the sensitive needs yard (protective custody) general population prison of their choice?

One of the main reasons they are able to continue to get away with their BS is the failure of the people to hold the lawmakers responsible.

I’ve been in the SHU for 28.4 years, to date, 24.7 years of which has been here in PBSP-SHU. [Editor’s note: This was written Dec. 30, 2014.] I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation. (During our hunger strike I was issued two rule violations classified as serious. They were for: a) having a photo of my longtime friend; and b) a letter that someone had sent me, a stranger who represented herself as a supporter of our cause and wanted to be a pen pal. Staff gave me the letter, and then came around later and confiscated it and wrote me up.)

The above is intended to put the following into some perspective: Based on my personal experience in PBSP SHU during the past 24.7 years, I’ve experienced many techniques designed to break me. One is isolation from my social group. This is a tactic used here by prisoncrats to physically remove those prisoners deemed “problematic” to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or weaken close emotional ties, along with segregation of all natural leaders.

I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation.

What prisoncrats like to do is claim that this place can’t be considered a solitary confinement unit because you have eight cells to each pod and thus the prisoners in each pod are able to talk to each other. But here is how it actually operates. If you are deemed a “problematic” prisoner by any of the staff – for example, if you are a prisoner who is constantly challenging the prisoncrats’ policies and practices – their way of subjecting you to an informal form of punishment or to try to break you is to put you in a pod where there are no other people of your social group.

For example, if you’re an African, they’ll put you in a pod without any other Africans anywhere close to you so that you will not be able to speak to any other African prisoner for the duration of time you are on status with the staff. If you’re Southern Mexican (classified as Mexican Mafia), you’ll be put in a pod with no other Southerners – a pod composed of several Northerners, maybe a White and an African – the same if you’re a Northern Mexican or White.

Let me give you another example of this, so there is no misunderstanding: I received my CDCr number in December 1982, and in all my time in prison I’ve never had a problem with a cell-mate. In October 1990, I was set up and shot by a guard here in PBSP SHU. This is supported by a published 9th Circuit Court ruling, upholding the federal court jury verdict in 1995, finding the guard in question had subjected me to assault and battery. This injury caused permanent disability and, between 1990 to 2002, I had cellmates who would assist me with daily activities, such as washing the clothes we are not permitted to send to the laundry and with writing.

Between November 1995 and December 2002, the man I was celled with and I achieved three published rulings that were favorable for prisoners across the nation, in 2003. And in August 2002, the 9th Circuit Court overturned the District Court’s dismissal of one of our lawsuits regarding pepper spray decontamination policy issues, finding that it could proceed as a respondeat superior claim as well, a rarity in prisoner cases. And in September 2002, the District Court issued two permanent injunctions on our lawsuits re books and the ability to receive materials downloaded from the internet in our mail.

In response, the prisoncrats issued a memo in October 2002 in which they sought to further restrict prisoners’ incoming mail. We had an attorney contact the warden and the deputy attorney general representing CDCr in our lawsuits, demanding they cease their retaliatory acts in response to the injunctions we’d just obtained. And by November they rescinded the memo re mail restrictions.

Then on Dec. 3, 2002, they moved my cellmate and me to a lexan cell, a cell covered with lexan plastic which restricts air flow and the ability to communicate with other people in the pod even more, as well as being either too hot or too cold; and the following day they separated us. The pretext used to justify these retaliatory acts was an incident in another pod, wherein a White prisoner attempted to spear an officer. We weren’t in the same pod and had nothing to do with this incident and were never written up for being involved. We were both isolated from all other Whites and kept in the single cell lexan cells.

In July 2003, the associate warden granted my formal request to be able to double cell with a good friend, so that he could assist me with my daily activities, as per ADA (American Disabilities Act). He was then brought over to the lexan cell that I’d been in since Dec. 2, 2002.

We immediately began to challenge various conditions of confinement via the 602 inmate appeals process, and on May 19, 2004, we filed our lawsuit challenging our indefinite SHU confinement and related no-parole policies. This suit was a precursor to what is now our class-action lawsuit, and on June 8, 2004, we were single celled. I objected to this clearly retaliatory act, and they knew they had a problem because we’d been allowed to double cell in response to my formal ADA accommodation request in 2003, so they put us in cells side by side, so that my friend and cellmate could still provide assistance in the form of writing. We were still in the lexan cells.

In the interim, we’d been pursuing our civil suit, which had been dismissed a few times for technical reasons; and beginning in late 2009, we began to add peaceful activism activities to our challenges against illegal policies and practices regarding conditions of confinement, leading up to our hunger strike moves in 2011, which brought some international attention to CDCr’s torture policies and practices toward those of us who’ve been confined in the SHU for decades. And we were increasing the pressure via the prisoner class collective efforts we began in 2010, seeking to force the end to long term SHU, and we issued our historic Agreement to End Race-Based Hostilities in August 2012.

On Sept. 6, 2012, IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) had me moved away from the collective as well as my assistant, into a cell covered in lexan, isolated from all other Whites. The IGI’s excuse or pretext for this clearly punitive move in response to my litigation and activism efforts – our attorneys had filed the paperwork seeking to amend our lawsuit as a first step towards seeking class-action status on behalf of all similarly situated PBSP SHU prisoners around May of 2012, and it was getting a lot of publicity in July-August 2012 – was that the move was done for my safety, which was 100 percent bullshit. But it’s another tactic used to try to break prisoners – reporting rumors with the intent of creating mistrust, convincing prisoners they can trust no one and are in danger and need the prisoncrats to protect them.

Add to these isolative, punitive, retaliatory moves – isolation from one’s social group; separation from people you are working with collectively in order to more effectively challenge long term illegal policies and practices; placement into more isolative cells wherein one is subjected to increased sensory deprivation and extreme heat and cold temperatures; spreading rumors that the isolated prisoner has safety issues – many additional acts of psychological torment being perpetrated against us on a daily basis: for example, the systematic withholding and delaying of mail; loud noises blasted into the pods via the speaker system, and loud noises by staff as they walk the tiers at night to count; denying adequate medical care; telling prisoners that if they want to be able to get the care and treatment they need, they need to get out of SHU; telling prisoners, “You hold the keys to get out of SHU anytime you want to, and thereby get to general population where you can get better care and treatment,” and them knowing that our sole avenue for release from PBSP SHU is via death, insanity or agreeing to become an informant for the state via debriefing.

The above are all facts supported by solid evidence, and they constitute direct proof of CDCr’s policies and practices regarding decades of subjecting thousands to a form of torture for the purpose of coercion, as further demonstrated by the following excerpt from the 2013 book by Nancy Kurshan, “Out of Control: A 15 Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons.”

On pages 12 and 13, she writes: “(R)esearch the prisoners had conducted … revealed a 1962 Bureau of Prisons (BOP) meeting in Washington, D.C., between prison officials and social scientists. Billed as a management development program for prison wardens, it coincidentally took place the same year the BOP opened Marion.

“Dr. Edgar Schein of MIT, a key player at that meeting, had written previously in a book entitled Coercive Persuasion about ‘brainwashing of Chinese Prisoners of War (POWs). …

“Schein put forward a set of ‘practical recommendations,’ throwing ethics and morals out the window.

“They included physical removal of prisoners to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or seriously weaken close emotional ties; segregation of all natural leaders; spying on prisoners, reporting back private material; exploitation of opportunists and informers; convincing prisoners they can trust no one; systematic withholding of mail; building a group conviction among prisoners that they have been abandoned by or are totally isolated from their social order; using techniques of character invalidation, i.e. humiliation, revilement and shouting to induce feelings of fear, guilt and suggestibility; coupled with sleeplessness, an exacting prison regimen and periodic interrogational interviews.”

These types of brainwashing strategies that involve physical as well as psychological abuse were being adopted from international arenas and applied inside U.S. prisons. Examples include the tactics used by the Brits to try and break the IRA prisoners and similar tactics refined by the West Germans to try and destroy the RAF (Red Army Faction), who were fighting the imperialism in their country, which is to a large extent due to the West German government policies per USA government dictates.

Now compare the above notes regarding the 1962 conference to Dr. Schein’s recommendations, with the examples of how they operate in the PBSP SHU, that I’ve also included above, and try to tell me such policies and practices aren’t intentionally imposed for the purpose of torturing prisoners into becoming state informants.

Remember, when the Legislature had hearings on said policies regarding long term SHU, they asked the CDCr prisoncrats for evidence to support their claims that said policies and practices were in fact making the prison system – and the public in general – safer and secure. And the prisoncrats couldn’t produce shit.

The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants for the state –  period – which is 100 percent illegal.

Additional evidence that is as seriously harmful and painful is contained in the book by Matthew Lieberman, “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” wherein Dr. Lieberman conducted studies using MRIs that demonstrated that people experience social and psychological pain in the same way they experience physical pain. It’s probably even more painful in the psychological context.

Here’s an example: Think about the worst painful experience you’ve ever had. Most people will think about the loss of a loved one or the breakup of a relationship, rather than a broken bone or other physical pain experience. It’s important to also remember that in addition to the circumstances and conditions prisoners are subjected to in the SHU or AdSeg environment is the fact that you are deprived of all semblance of normal human contact.

You are basically on sub-human, animal status for the duration of confinement in such units. You are always in a cage and/or in restraints, under escort by at least two guards, being observed by guards in the control booths who are armed with high power assault rifles.

The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants for the state –  period – which is 100 percent illegal.

You are under constant surveillance via guards in the control booths and floor staff, who can and do listen to any and all conversations in the pods when men are talking over the tier and on the yards, via speakers on the yard walls. You have no physical contact with anyone other than while in restraints, via the guards escorting you with their hands on you, or at medical, where you are in restraints with guards hovering over you.

You have no physical contact with your loved ones. Those who are fortunate to get visits – a hardship for the majority of PBSP prisoners due to the remote location of the prison – visit behind glass, talking over a phone with a small video camera mounted on the wall. IGI staff are listening and observing you and your visitor the entire visit, and if either of you says or does anything the IGI observers don’t like, they can cancel your visit on the spot or, a few days or so later, they’ll issue you a write-up for alleged visiting violations and you end up on visit restriction for between 90 days to a year to permanently being banned from visiting with certain people.

Going back to Lieberman’s book, “Social,” it’s important to note that his studies included the subject of empathy, and he found that people really do “feel other people’s pain” when they observe people close to them being mistreated. The reason this is relevant is that not only are the prisoners being subjected to the above referenced coercive, torturous treatment FOR DECADES, but our loved ones and friends are subjected to the same psychological pain as we are. Supported by scientific studies conducted by Dr. Lieberman, and others, we find that the technique for conducting such studies has only become available over the past 10 years.

The point of the above summary is to educate the public and refute CDCr’s propagandistic claim, “We don’t operate solitary confinement units, nor do we torture any prisoners.” Facts prove otherwise.

What can people outside do about the above ongoing torture policies and practices by CDCr?

First, let me clarify a few things about where our cause presently stands from my perspective:

We successfully educated the public and exposed CDCr’s decades-old on-going subjection of thousands of prisoners to the torture of long term, indefinite SHU, via our peaceful activism efforts – the writing campaign (our formal complaint and other statements) and our three peaceful protest actions in the form of mass hunger strikes and work stoppages. By “we” I’m referring to those on the inside of these prison walls and our outside loved ones and supporters.

In my previous writings about our on-going struggle for real reform, the No. 1 priority being the end of long term solitary confinement, I’ve expressed the opinion that the prisoners remain responsible for leading this cause to victory via our actions inside these walls. And I’ve put myself out there with my peers pushing for additional peaceful actions on our part in here.

The response has been mixed, and it’s very difficult to get a collective consensus, as many of our outside people know. The administration has done all it can to prohibit us, the Short Corridor Collective, from being able to communicate. This began with IGI moving me from D1 block to D4 block on Sept. 6, 2012, and has continued with the recent move to D4-207, further isolating me from the prisoners who have influence in their respective groups, and the Step Down Program, with related transfers of many of the collective members to other prisons across the state.

Thus, I’ve had to reflect and re-evaluate our position. This is really not acceptable, and from my perspective is an excuse for non-action. Look, I’ve respectfully sent out several letters calling on the people to hold the lawmakers accountable.

It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.

The lawmakers must be held accountable

I’ve had to re-evaluate my prior perspective regarding prisoners continuing to lead this struggle in light of the above referenced factors. Subsequently, I snapped to the FACT that once we successfully exposed this torture program to the world, making the people aware, at least some of the responsibility shifts to the PEOPLE TO HOLD THE LAWMAKERS RESPONSIBLE.

And their failure to do so equates to THE PEOPLE enabling this to continue. The people have the power. The lawmakers hold their positions on behalf of their representative status – on behalf of the people.

It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.

With this in mind, here’s something people can do now towards holding the lawmakers responsible:

  1. Select a few of the lawmakers who we all know are in CDCr’s and CCPOA’s pockets for exposure as supporters and enablers of CDCr’s torture program, using social media to blast them worldwide. And you can also have people show up at their committee hearings to blast them as torture supporters. You’ll need to include references to public records supporting this position, such as the transcripts of the legislative hearings held regarding SHU, the September 2012 report by Amnesty International on PBSP SHU and the statements by Juan Mendez. The lawmakers you select for public exposure should be the five to 10 lawmakers who were the most vocal against Tom Ammiano’s bill.
  2. Once these selected have come to be blasted in social media, you have a package together for presentation to the remaining lawmakers. The package needs to be a presentation supporting our position that this is a torture program, without cause or support for CDCr’s positions regarding making the system safer. Again, use the public records. And ask these lawmakers if they condone and support torture. Then, you present them with the things they can do to rein in CDCr’s abuse of power. This is a simple action. It’s something people can put in motion and have in motion while we plan our next moves.

Send our brother some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, D4-207, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

Please Sign these letters for healthcare for people in prison in California!

Being in physical distress locked in a cell turns into a truly terrifying experience when you can hear the cops banter with each other about you being a “crybaby”…and they’ll get to it when they have finished cutting it up with each other. It’s especially terrifying when you are experiencing symptoms you don’t understand & you have witnessed others calling for help only to learn that person didn’t survive.
-Sonja Marcus, formerly incarcerated woman, survived 18 years in prison


On July 30, 2014 a woman committed suicide in the Solitary Housing Unit (SHU) of the California Institution for Women (CIW), in Corona. According to information gathered by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), there have been seven preventable deaths at CIW so far in 2014 and three attempted suicides since July alone. None of these deaths have been made public by CIW or CDCR although they signify a state of crisis in the prison.

Prison officials have failed to inform bereaved family members of these deaths in a timely and respectful manner. Margie Kobashigawa, the mother of 30-year-old Alicia Thompson, who died of an alleged suicide on February 24, 2014 in the SHU, was ignored by prison staff. 

“Nobody from the prison would call me back, nobody would talk to me. I was planning to pick up my daughter’s body and suddenly CIW was trying to cremate her again, and quickly. To me it’s like they’re trying to hide everything,” said Margie. As she prepared her daughter for burial, she found no signs of hanging trauma to her body and has reason to believe her daughter died from some other type of violent force.

On March 13, 2014 Shadae Schmidt, a 32-year-old African American woman, died in the CIW SHU. Shadae had a stroke in February 2014 and was prematurely returned to the SHU. She was given medication that made her sick but her requests for a change in prescription fell on deaf ears; and then she died.

CCWP received information regarding these two deaths from friends and family members, but other deaths, suicides and attempted suicides remain shrouded in mystery. 

The majority of people in the SHU have some type of mental health problem, which is exacerbated by solitary confinement. CCWP continues to hear reports that there is no medical staff to monitor people’s vital signs and mental states when physical and mental health crises occur. People scream for help and get no response at all. 

Since the closure of Valley State Women’s Prison in January 2013, overcrowding at CIW has skyrocketed. Medical care has significantly deteriorated and there has been a dramatic increase in the population of the SHU and other disciplinary segregation units. 

Overcrowding has aggravated mental health issues causing an increase in the number of mentally disabled people in the SHU even though this is the worst place to put them.

In August 2014, in response to a court order, the CDCR released revised policies to reduce the number of people with mental health diagnoses in isolation. Policy changes are only useful if they are implemented. It is crucial for the CDCR to transfer all people with mental health issues out of the CIW SHU as soon as possible in accordance with the court order. 

Despite decades of lawsuits to remedy prison health care and court orders to reduce prison overcrowding, the inhuman conditions inside CA women’s prisons continue and have led to these tragic, violent and untimely deaths. In order to reverse the crisis at CIW, CCWP calls for the following immediate actions:
  • Immediate transfer of all prisoners with mental health issues from the SHU and implementation of care programs.
  • Increased healthcare staffing and care for people in the SHU.
  • An independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding all deaths at CIW in 2014.
  • Reduction of overcrowding through the implementation of existing release programs rather than transfers to other equally problematic prisons and jails.
PLEASE CALL, EMAIL, WRITE or FAX these people with the demands above:
Sara Malone, Chief Ombudsman
Office of the Ombudsman
1515 S. Street, Room 124 S.
Sacramento, CA 95811
Tel: (916) 327-8467  Fax: (916) 324-8263
sara.malone@cdcr.ca.gov
Kimberly Hughes, Warden CIW
Tel: (909) 597-1771
Kimberly.hughes@cdcr.ca.gov
Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson
District 19, Senate Budget Committee
Vice-Chair of Women’s Caucus
(916) 651-4019
senator.jackson@sen.ca.gov
Assemblymember Nancy Skinner
District 15, Women’s Caucus
(916) 319-2015
Assemblymember.Skinner@outreach.assembly.ca.gov
Assemblymember Tom Ammiano
District 17
(916) 319-2017
Assemblymember.Ammiano@outreach.assembly.ca.gov
Senator Mark Leno
Senator.leno@senator.ca.gov
Senator Loni Hancock
Senator.hancock@senate.ca.gov
Senator Holly Mitchell
District 26, Women’s Caucus
Public Safety Committee (916) 651-4015
Senator Jim Beall
District 15, Senate Budget Committee
senator.beall@senator.ca.gov
(916) 651-4026
Jay Virbel, Associate Director of Female Offender Programs & Services
jay.virbel@cdcr.ca.gov
(916) 322-1627
PO Box 942883
Sacramento, CA 95811
Jeffrey Beard, CDCR Secretary
Jeff.Beard@cdcr.ca.gov
(916) 323-6001
PO Box 942883

Sacramento, CA 95811

Also from CURB
Please sign here to sign CURB’s letter for decent healthcare at CSP-Corcoran!

Families of CA prisoners – statement on suspension of hunger strike

From: CA Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement: CFASC
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 5, 2013
As family members and leaders of the California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC) organization, the Hunger Strike Mediation Team and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, we feel that the almost 60 day hunger strike was a huge sacrifice on the part of the prisoners. We can’t imagine what their bodies have endured these past 60 days and we are very glad that it’s over and that there were no lives lost.
At the same time, we know and are prepared for the greater challenges that lie ahead. To ensure that the prisoners, our loved ones, never need endure such suffering again we will continue in our work to bring an end to such inhumane conditions.  As members of CFASC, ourselves and many family members are ready to continue and remain in the forefront to bring an end to the use of long term solitary confinement.
We are very proud of our family members and loved ones that were willing to make such a sacrifice which has gained international attention and we are honored to be part of such a historical movement.
Irene Huerta, CFASC, wife of Gabriel Huerta, PB Short Corridor Representative
Dolores Canales,CFASC mother of PB SHU prisoner 

Amnesty International: USA: California prison authorities ‘toying with the lives’ of inmates on hunger strike

From: Amnesty International, August 30th 2013:
The refusal by California’s prison authorities to explore options to resolve the hunger strike crisis in the state’s high security units is a dangerous move that could lead to the deaths of inmates in their custody, Amnesty International said.
More than 30,000 prisoners joined a hunger strike last July over inhumane detention conditions in California’s security housing units (SHUs). More than 70 are still refusing food.
“It’s nothing short of appalling that instead of dealing with the complaints, California’s prison authorities have chosen to threaten inmates with force-feeding and disciplinary measures, and have moved some to other facilities,” said Tessa Murphy, Campaigner on the USA at Amnesty International.
“No one should be punished for exercising the right to peaceful protest. California prison authorities must stop toying with people’s lives and meet with the mediation team to begin a meaningful process of negotiation.”
Amnesty International has also received reports that some of those on hunger strike have been denied medical care.
This week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) published a press release saying that it had addressed some of the inmates’ demands.
“Recent proposals by California’s prison authorities do not go far enough to address the inhumanity that permeates many aspects of the security housing units, including lengthy periods during which inmates are held in isolation and excessively harsh conditions of confinement including lack of social contact and programming,” said Tessa Murphy.
“The rehabilitation of prisoners is absolutely essential for their positive reintegration into society at the end of their sentence.”
Amnesty International is calling on CDCR to reduce the length of the step down programme and to make meaningful changes to the isolation units, particularly in Pelican Bay prison, with an emphasis on increased social contact and rehabilitation.
On 19 August, a federal court issued a decision that would allow the state to force-feed hunger strikers “at risk of near-death or great bodily injury”. The court also ruled that the state may ignore “do not resuscitate” directives if they were signed for the purpose of the hunger strike, or if the state believes they were achieved through coercion.
The force feeding of mentally competent hungers strikers is contrary to medical ethics and breaches their right to freedom of expression.

August 1st: Assemblymember Ammiano makes statement on ongoing prisoner hunger strike

For immediate release: August 1, 2013
For additional information: Carlos Alcalá, Communications Director, (916) 319-2017
Assemblymember Ammiano makes statement on ongoing prisoner hunger strike
SACRAMENTO — Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, disturbed by the Department of Corrections’ lack of progress in addressing issues raised by hunger striking prisoners in California facilities, today issued the following statement on the strike, currently in its fourth week. Assemblymember Ammiano is chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, visited Pelican Bay State Prison in January, and has held hearings on prison conditions.
“I remain concerned about the hundreds of prisoners still participating in a hunger strike to protest conditions. These are not minor prisoner complaints; they are violations of international standards that have drawn worldwide attention. To keep anyone in severe isolation for indefinite amounts of time does not meet norms of human rights that civilized countries accept. The seriousness of the demands is underscored by the fact that hunger strikers have been at it for more than three weeks now.
“Although the death of a prisoner who had participated in the hunger strike has been ruled a suicide, I can’t be comforted by the knowledge that conditions in taxpayer funded institutions have led to unusual rates of suicide instead of reasonable rates of rehabilitation.
“I support those who are asking the administration to take more active steps to change the culture in CDCR. I am hopeful that the CDCR leadership will talk to mediators for the hunger strikers and that those talks can lead to progress that would allow this hunger strike to end.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–AUGUST 1, 2013
Amid a Week of Rallies in Support of Prison Hunger Strikers, CA Assemblyman Tom Ammiano Urges Action, Resolution to Strike
Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
Oakland–California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano issued a statement today urging the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to meet with prisoner hunger strike mediators and work toward meeting the prisoners’ demands.  Prisoners throughout California have been on hunger strike for 25 days, demanding an end to indefinite solitary confinement, comprehensive changes in draconian “anti-gang” policies, an end to collective punishment, and the provision of nutritious food and constructive programs and educational services.
These are not minor prisoner complaints, they are violations of international standards that have drawn worldwide attention. To keep anyone in severe isolation for indefinite amounts of time does not meet norms of human rights that civilized countries accept,” Said Ammiano.  “I support those who are asking the administration to take more active steps to change the culture in CDCR. I am hopeful that the CDCR leadership will talk to mediators for the hunger strikers and that those talks can lead to progress that would allow this hunger strike to end.”
“We applaud Assemblyperson Ammiano for taking such a strong stance in support of basic human rights for California prisoners,” said Donna Willmott, a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.  “We hope other California decision makers join with him and not only make strong statements but also taking decisive action to bring about a resolution of this crisis.”
The CDCR has taken a hard line against the strikers and their families, making unsubstantiated claims that the strike and its outside support is part of massive gang conspiracy.  They have also publicized salacious details of some prisoners’ criminal histories, ignoring the roles these prisoners are playing in making just human rights demands and calling for an end to hostilities among prisoners. The CDCR continues to make assertions that the department’s use of extreme isolation is justified to control “the worst of the worst.”   Despite the prisoners being derided by the CDCR, support for the them is spreading. 
Tuesday, nearly 100 family and loved ones of strikers visited the California State Capitol and presented 70,000 signatures urging negotiation with the strikers to Governor Jerry Brown’s office.  Though Brown himself did not meet with family members personally, one of his aides did, marking the first public involvement from his office.  On Wednesday, hundreds rallied in support of hunger strikers at demonstrations held in Los Angeles, Oakland, London, New York, Santa Cruz, Jackson, and Philadelphia.  Demonstrations were also held in Germany and Guyana.  Demonstrators demanded that the CDCR and Governor negotiate with strikers immediately and end any and all retaliations against their protest.  Los Angeles’ rally was attend by at least 200 and included speeches by actors Danny Glover and Mike Ferrell.  Wednesday’s rallies also drew connections between the hunger strike and the recent Trayvon Martin protests.  “In coming together, we work toward bringing an end to injustices everywhere, from solitary confinement to racial profiling to mass incarceration,” said Dolores Canales, of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, whose son is on hunger strike in Pelican Bay.   
The death of hunger striker Billy Sell in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Corcoran prison continues to be an urgent concern.  A moment of silence was held in Sell’s honor at the Oakland rally on Wednesday.  Ammiano addressed Sell’s death directly, saying, “The death of a prisoner who had participated in the hunger strike has been ruled a suicide, I can’t be comforted by the knowledge that conditions in taxpayer funded institutions have led to unusual rates of suicide instead of reasonable rates of rehabilitation.”  Amnesty International also condemned Sell’s death and is joining strike supporters in demanding an independent investigation.  “Conditions for prisoners in solitary confinement in California are an affront to human rights and must end,” said Amnesty.
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California prison hunger strike is call for justice

Alleged gang members in the California prison system are forced into ‘living graves’. It’s inhumane and without review

Taken over from: The Guardian, July 17, 2013

Sadhbh Walshe

California houses alleged gang inmates in 7 by 11ft cells. Photograph: Creative Commons

Shortly after two statewide hunger strikes rocked the California prison system in 2011, I began corresponding with several of the men who had participated in the protests. They were mostly alleged prison gang members who have been sentenced to indefinite terms in California’s Secure Housing Units, known as SHUs. They spend 22.5 hours of every day in 7 by 11ft windowless cells. If they’re lucky, the remaining 1.5 hours are spent alone in a barren exercise yard with 15 foot high concrete walls and a covered ceiling that prevents them from catching a proper glimpse of the sky.

They are allowed no phone calls, no contact visits with loved ones and their only physical interactions with fellow humans is when they are handcuffed or strip searched by guards. The worst part of this intolerable existence, they say, is that because of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)’s gang policy, once a prisoner is sent to the SHU, it’s next to impossible for him to get out again. One of my correspondents, Patrick, explained his motivation for going on hunger strike:

I have been in the SHU for 14 years, I’ve been in the short corridor here since its opening. I am validated (as a gang member) and have an indefinite SHU term. I have a life sentence. If the gang policy doesn’t change, I will die in this unit. I am 41 years old.

The first two hunger strikes both eventually ended after approximately three weeks when the CDCR agreed to make some changes to the policies that keep men like Patrick in the SHU for decades. Two years later, however, it seems that little meaningful reform has taken place and so, on 8 July, nearly 30,000 prisoners across the state began a third hunger strike, which may end up being the largest and longest in California’s history.

Despite the gravity of the situation and the prisoners’ evident desperation, so far the CDCR has shown little willingness to cede any ground.

At the heart of the protest is the CDCR’s policy of taking validated gang members and associates out of the mainline prison population and handing them a one way ticket to the SHU. This policy was borne out of an effort to curb gang control of prison yards and to keep other inmates safe from violence.

There is no external review of the validation process, however, and many prisoners, and their legal representatives, claim to have been falsely validated on flimsy evidence such as possessing the wrong kind of book or the wrong kind of tattoo or simply greeting a known gang member. The CDCR’s own former under-secretary, Scott Kernan, (who retired after the first two hunger strikes), admitted in an interview that the department was guilty of “over-validating” inmates, and that their SHU policies had “gone too far”. Yet, once a validated prisoner ends up in the SHU, his only way out is to become a state informant debrief), or in prison parlance, to snitch on other inmates.

This is something of a non-option for SHU prisoners who have no valuable information to offer the authorities in exchange for their release. It’s also a non-option for most gang members who do happen to have valuable information, because becoming an informant will almost certainly put their lives and the lives of innocent family members in serious danger. So SHU prisoners who may have long since dropped any gang affiliations and simply want to serve out their time are faced with an impossible choice: debrief and risk death, don’t debrief and remain buried alive.

I raised this Catch-22 with Pelican Bay’s Warden Greg Lewis when I visited the prison’s notorious SHU last year. Lewis acknowledged the dangers associated with debriefing but said, “the men who choose to debrief tend to recognize that they put their families at risk by joining the gang in the first place”. A fair point, I suppose, but hardly a constructive one. Lewis also emphasized that debriefing was a vital component of the prison’s overall gang management strategy and would remain so, regardless of that risk.

After the first round of hunger strikes, the CDCR did make some concessions to prisoners, however, promising to use new criteria for placing inmates in the SHU and to institute a step down program that would allow inmates an opportunity to get out of isolation that didn’t necessarily involve debriefing. Since these changes were implemented, vorrections officials say they have reviewed nearly 400 cases and around half of those have been returned to the general population. That is welcome news for those lucky few but has had no impact on the vast majority of long term SHU inmates.

According to Alexis Agathocleous of the Center for Constitutional Reform, which has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay “not a single one of our clients has experienced any change in their situation whatsoever”. Even more disturbing is the fact noted by Shane Bauer in the Los Angeles Times recently, that in the past year, despite the reforms (or possibly because of them) the overall SHU population has actually increased by 15% to a total of 4,257 statewide.

Read the rest here.