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Prison hunger strikers now number 12,000, advocates say [Updated]

October 3, 2011 |  2:37 pm

Prison hunger strike

Advocates for California prison inmates conducting a hunger strike said the number of participants has swelled to 12,000, making it possibly the largest prison strike in recent U.S. history. 

The inmates are eight days into a renewed hunger strike after they suspended a previous strike in July.

[Updated at 4:12 p.m. Monday: State corrections officials said the number of striking inmates is far lower than reported by advocates. As of Monday, officials said there are 1,245 inmates at four prisons who have missed nine or more consecutive meals since Sept. 26. The number of inmates who had missed nine or more consecutive meals peaked Sept. 29 with 4,252 inmates at eight state prisons.]

They began the most recent strike to call attention to conditions, including lengthy stints in solitary confinement.

In California prisons, suspected gang members may be held in isolation indefinitely, a practice that prison officials say is necessary to keep order and prevent violence but that inmates call inhumane. 

Inmates agreed to start eating three weeks into the initial strike in July in exchange for warm hats, wall calendars and a promise from prison officials to reconsider the isolation regulations.

But, they said, their concerns were not addressed.

According to the group Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, inmates at these institutions are particpating: the Pelican Bay, Calipatria, Centinela, Corcoran, Ironwood, Kern Valley, North Kern, Salinas Valley, Pleasant Valley and San Quentin state prisons, the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco and the West Valley Detention Center in San Bernardino County.

Another 3,000 California prisoners held in out-of-state facilities in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma have also refused food, the group said.

On Thursday, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials said they would crack down on striking inmates.

Leaders of the strike were warned they would be removed from the general population and placed in an "administrative segregation unit" if the actions continued.

"The department will not condone organized inmate disturbances," the agency said.

Advocates said family members of striking prisoners reported that their visits last weekend were denied by corrections officials, citing security concerns.

They also said two mediation team lawyers were banned from the facilities with prison administration  citing “security threats.” 

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-- Abby Sewell

Photo: Inmate Timothy Kelly at Pelican Bay State Prison, where inmates waged a hunger strike in July to protest alleged mistreatment. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

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