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      California Prison Hunger Strike Masked by Iron Curtain

      A California Department of Corrections officer speaks to inmates at Chino State Prison. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian)

      Will California Governor Jerry Brown, a lifetime opponent of capital punishment, take responsibility for the death of hunger strikers in solitary confinement in state prisons? That is a looming question as the hunger strike enters its fourth week and the governor and top legislators return from their summer vacations. 

      California prison officials appear to be engaged in aggressive news management to prevent greater public awareness of the crisis. They would not confirm last week’s death of a hunger striker, apparently by hanging, to the Los Angeles Times, no until a reporter received word from inmate advocates. 

      At least 600 inmates remain on strike, but the numbers participating in the action include more than 10,000 in many facilities across the state. The press is barred from seeing, interviewing or photographing any of the inmates, many of whom have been in solitary confinement for decades. 

      In a sign of urgency, monitors appointed by the federal courts have been dispatched to several prisons to investigate the risk of inmate deaths. The US Supreme Court has ruled California’s overcrowding crisis a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In January, Brown declared that “the prison crisis is over in California,” and appealed the federal decision. 

      The public is on Brown’s side when it comes to locking up violent convicted criminals. Lifting what amounts to a California Iron Curtain, however, would allow the public and elected officials to understand what has driven thousands of inmates to risk greater punishment, threats to their health and even their lives. Like the detainees at Guantanamo, the California hunger strikers are signaling that their situation is so lacking in hope that death has become a viable option. 

      If the Iron Curtain were lifted, the hunger strike demands would be revealed as simple, concrete and humane. They want a limitation of no more than five years in solitary confinement. They oppose forms of deprivation known to medical authorities to cause serious harm. They want to make occasional calls, and have family visits. They want healthy food, exercise and access to television on a limited basis. The sticking point is that the state historically insists that they “debrief” – that is, identify gang members by name – as a condition of any leniency. Demanding that inmates “snitch” puts their lives at risk and yields evidence that is far from perfect. Since the hunger strike of 2011, state officials have made only token progress toward addressing the demands, as shown by what is the largest hunger strike in prison history. 

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      Reader Comments (1)

      Jerry Brown fought the Plata/Coleman lawsuit knowing that a prisoner dies almost everyday and that thousands more only wish that they were dead from living in horrible inhumane conditions. When the Supreme Court ruled that 40,000 prisoners must be released due to violations of the 8th Amendment, Brown still had no compassion or sense of duty to comply.

      He promised to fix the determinate sentencing laws during his election campaign. Instead, he took $2 million in donations from CCPOA and gave the prison guards hundreds of millions in raises by quickly signing SB 151. He conned everyone into thinking that "Realignment" would be a solution and sent prisoners who shouldn't be incarcerated in the first place to jails. All Brown was doing was playing musical chairs until he could raise taxes and spend billions more on prison expansion.

      Brown has blood on his hands already and refuses to hold prison employees accountable for the terrible inhumanity that they exhibit. The guards celebrate when a prisoner dies. The mentally ill suffer the most, not to mention the frail elderly who could safely be released. Brown doesn't deserve anything but criticism for banning the media and remaining on vacation while this is taking place. Apparently he doesn't realize that 3 million potential voters are attached to a state prisoner or someone on parole. When it comes to criminal justice matters, Brown is worse than any Republican.

      Thank you for your article.

      August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterB Cayenne Bird
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