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Many prisoners have lost 20-35 pounds in hunger strike, advocates say

July 19, 2011 | 10:08 am

PrisonstrikeA hunger strike at four California prisons is entering its third week as more than 400 inmates protest long, punitive stays in isolation cells.

Prison officials, who refuse to allow reporters into the institutions to interview the strikers, said 49 inmates who have lost at least 10 pounds each are "being monitored closely," including seven at Pelican Bay, the maximum-security prison near the Oregon border where the hunger strike began, The Times reported.            

An inmate at the prison in Tehachapi in Central California has lost 29 pounds, according to Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for the court-appointed receiver in charge of prison healthcare.

Inmate advocates say thousands of inmates have joined the strike, which began July 1. Many are beginning to show dramatic weight loss and early signs of starvation, they say.

Dozens have been sent to prison infirmaries because of irregular heartbeats and fainting, according to a statement issued Monday by California Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity, which says it represents attorneys and family members of inmates. "Most have lost 20-35 pounds," the statement says.

The inmates are protesting lengthy stays in Security Housing Units, known as prisons within the prison, where they are sent for violating rules. They are typically kept alone in their cells for 22 hours a day, allowed out for medical visits and for exercise in individual wire cages on the prison yard.

The only way to get released from the unit, inmates say, is to confess that they are prison gang members or offer guards incriminating information about others who are gang members. Doing that, they say, puts their lives at risk and can put their families in danger.

"There is another way for inmates to be removed from the SHU," prison spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said in an email. "They can maintain an inactive status from any gang involvement for six years."

Inmates and their advocates want that policy abolished.


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Photo: Delores Canales, left, and other demonstrators gather outside the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Los Angeles in support of state prisoners participating in a hunger strike. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times