State prison protest continues
About 1,600 inmates continued to take part in a hunger strike protesting conditions in the state prison system’s maximum-security isolation units, down significantly from the peak of roughly 6,600 strikers over the July 4 weekend, said Terry Thornton, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Meantime, about 60 people converged on a sidewalk outside the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, shouting and raising signs of support for the strikers, even though the jail is not part of the state-run system affected by the hunger strike.
"The conditions are deplorable, the worst a human being can live in,” said Victor Amaya, who said his son Alex Amaya, 24, incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison for attempted murder and currently in an isolation unit, is among the strikers. “These men have done bad things in their lives, but the way they are treating them is completely inhumane.”
The protest started July 1 at the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay, a prison near the Oregon border that houses some of the state’s most hard-core offenders. The isolation units there -- part of a trio of such units statewide -- are reserved for prisoners considered to be extremely violent, many of them with gang ties. The units have cells that are windowless and soundproof, to limit inmate communication. Prisoners are released for about an hour a day so they can walk freely in a small area with high concrete walls.
Inmates involved in the strike have a number of complaints, including a need for better food, warmer clothes and improved educational opportunities.
Thornton noted that the strike has remained nonviolent and that inmates are being monitored by prison doctors. She also said prison officials are maintaining “an open dialogue” with the protesters.
Of the state’s 33 prisons, eight currently have striking inmates, down from a high of 13, Thornton said.
-- Kurt Streeter
Photo: Inmates play cards in the reception area of the California State Prison in Lancaster. Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times