Lawyers for hunger-striking inmates want meeting with Gov. Brown
A team of lawyers chosen by hunger-striking inmates to negotiate their demands called Friday for a meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown to air objections over their exclusion from prison facilities and a crackdown by authorities on the strikers, organizers said.
The move came after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation barred the mediation team lawyers from entering prison facilities pending an investigation of whether they "jeopardized the safety and security of CDCR institutions," a group backing the hunger strikers said.
“We have been receiving steady reports from prisoners of CDCR intimidation and retaliation leading up to the strike," Carol Strickman, one of the lawyers, said in a statement Friday. "Now, we have the CDCR threatening prisoners and cutting off contact with our legal team. We obviously don’t want to imagine the worst, but we are legitimately concerned about violence on the part of the prison administration.”
Prison officials on Thursday announced that the strike had spread to eight facilities, with 4,252 inmates missing nine consecutive meals since Monday. Organizers put the number of participants at 6,000.
The strikers are demanding healthier food, an end to long-term solitary confinement, an end to the way gang affiliation is determined and an end to group punishment. The strike began in July and expanded nationwide before strikers relented, but it has started up again.
"Participation in a mass disturbance is a violation of state law, and any participating inmates will receive disciplinary action in accordance with the California Code of Regulations," it noted. "Inmates identified as leading the disturbance will be subject to removal from the general population and be placed in an Administrative Segregation Unit."
Other measures to manage the "nutritional intake" of strikers could include "the possible removal of canteen items from the cells of participating inmates. CDCR is continuing to offer state-issued meals to all inmates," the agency said.
In their Friday letter to Brown, the mediators accused prison officials of "inaction at the negotiation table" and said the threats to prisoners “clearly demonstrate the unwillingness of CDCR officials to address the prisoners’ demands adequately.”
State corrections officials counter that the department in May "began conducting a thorough evaluation of its gang validation and Security Housing Unit (SHU) confinement policies and procedures." That has resulted in a draft policy that "includes behavior-based components, increased privileges for SHU inmates who remain disciplinary-free, a step-down process for SHU inmates, and a better defined validation process."
The CDCR has also "authorized offering watch caps, sweat pants, hobby craft items and wall calendars for purchase; provided exercise equipment in SHU yards; authorized annual photographs for disciplinary-free SHU inmates; approved use of proctors for college examinations; and audited food-service operations at Pelican Bay State Prison," the department said in its Thursday statement.
-- Lee Romney in San Francisco