Solitary-confinement inmates threaten new hunger strike
It took more than a month to make their message public, but self-declared inmate leaders within California's toughest prison wing are threatening renewed protests over the state's inmate isolation policies.
They call themselves the "Short Corridor Collective," a reference to the off-limits wing at Pelican Bay State Prison where inmates who allegedly are the top leaders of prison gangs are housed in segregation cells and allowed out less than an hour a day, usually in isolation. Short Corridor inmates were believed responsible for instigating a string of hunger strikes in prisons statewide last year in protest of conditions within those cells, and state rules on who gets housed there.
Advocates for inmates this week said they received a letter -- originally dated mid-November -- from four Short Corridor prisoners denouncing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's new policies for determining who is a gang member and subject to isolation.
Those revised policies, issued in June, create a program allowing inmates to leave segregation in four years if they adhere to a step-down program, or sooner if they "debrief" and provide investigators with information on gang activity. It continues to allow use of associations, information from confidential informants and evidence of political activity in determining who is a candidate for indefinite segregation.
"We patiently sit here for another year only to have CDCR come at me with more of the same garbage we rejected in March," the letter states. "Thereby making clear to us that obtaining real changes will require us to resume our non-violent, peaceful protest actions; in the form of a hunger strike and no work, protests to the death if necessary!"
The prisoners contend that segregation "must be reserved solely for prisoners who are charged for and found guilty of serious rule violation."
Reflective of the slow flow of information into and out of Pelican Bay, the November letter refers to Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate. He stepped down Nov. 12 and was replaced this week by former Pennsylvania prisons chief Jeffrey Beard.
-- Paige St. John in Sacramento
Photo: An isolation cell in one of California's prison segregation units. Credit: Amnesty International