Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hunger strike highlights horror in California's prisons

Northbay MDS Solidarity campaign page for the California Statewide Prisoner Hunger Strike to Stop Torture, Long-Term Isolation & Indefinite Solitary Confinement in Prisons [link]

2013-08-28 "Hunger strike highlights horror in California's prisons"
by Shakati Walsh of Arcata, published by the "Eureka Times-Standard" []:
Monday marked the 50th day of a hunger strike in California's prisons protesting the 8th Amendment constitutional violation of cruel and unusual punishment for inmates living within solitary confinement. It is estimated that 70 inmates are still not eating into the 50th day of the hunger strike. Exact statistics are hard to come by due to the politics of each prison and their unwillingness to disseminate honest information. At this time what we know is true is that people are willing to die to get our attention. As citizens of California who shape by our votes and our tax dollars what is happening in our prisons, we need to be willing to at least listen. One hunger striker has already died. If more die, the citizens of California will have a responsibility in their deaths if we do not demand immediate action to be taken by Gov. Jerry Brown to begin negotiations and end the strike.
In 1978 California housed 28,000 prisoners; in 2007 that number reached over 160,000. We made prison politics a business rather than a means to a better end. Today, over 12,000 inmates are in solitary confinement within California prisons. The average time a prisoner in California spends in solitary confinement is 7.5 years. Over 4,000 inmates are subject to solitary confinement indefinitely, 78 prisoners have been in solitary confinement for over 20 years, 513 for over 10 years. This is insane. Have we lost all humanity to torture human beings in this manner? We Americans have become comfortably numb to the suffering of others.
The United Nations has urged Americans to do away with indefinite solitary confinement. The United Nations has declared extended periods of stay within solitary confinement to be torture. Juan Mendez, spokesperson for the U.N., stated on Aug. 23, “Even if solitary confinement is applied for short periods of time, it often causes mental and physical suffering or humiliation, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and if the resulting pain or sufferings are severe, solitary confinement even amounts to torture.”
Gov. Brown has taken no action to mediate the situation; his silence is immoral and unethical. Every human being has a constitutional right to not be tortured in America. Whether you are a prisoner or not, this is true. The understanding that torture is a violation of our basic human rights has been established worldwide and is the standard held by the United Nations; it is not just an American right, it is a human right. Rather than negotiate with the prisoners who are willing to put their lives on the line, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Gov. Brown have chosen the violent path of force-feeding prisoners refusing to eat. A hunger strike is an extreme form of protest, one that risks everything for the need to be heard and addressed in a manner in which change is a result. Change will not come from force-feedings. Human rights will not be protected by force-feedings. Humanity will not evolve when denial, control, dominance, revenge, fear, hate and de-humanization rule the order of the day.
In July over 30,000 prisoners, crossing all ethnic lines, resumed a hunger strike protest for five core demands:
1. End group punishment and administrative abuse; many are punished for the actions of one, usually determined by racial identity.
2. End the policy of using solitary confinement as an interrogation practice that demands “snitching” on another prisoner as the only way out of solitary confinement and change gang status criteria, such as tattoos, reading material, and alleged associations, as being a reason for placement in solitary confinement.
3. End long-term solitary confinement; this includes releasing all prisoners from solitary confinement who have been isolated for the last 10 to 40 years.
4. Provide adequate and nutritious food; do not use food as a means of punishment.
5. Provide constructive programs that allow the enrichment of thought and well-being.
Psychology has long proven punishment to be an ineffective way to teach anything. We cannot hope for change when we provide no pathway to it.
I urge all of us to take action and call Gov. Brown, 916-445-2841, encourage him to be a leader and to take immediate ethical and moral action and work with the prisoners to end these human rights violations and effect real change. Go to the website: and get involved, please.

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