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Prison hunger strikers raise issues with state gang policy

October 15, 2012 |  7:12 pm

Inmates on a six-day hunger strike at the state prison near Tehachapi are raising objections over new state policies on how gang members are identified and treated, state officials say.

Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said those policies have yet to be implemented and are under review by the state Office of Administrative Law.

As of Monday, 161 inmates within segregated cell blocks at the California Correctional Institution, called the Security Housing Unit, continued to refuse meals, Thornton said. The fasting began on Wednesday with nearly 300 inmates at Tehachapi, as well as another 200 inmates in the general prison population at Pelican Bay State Prison hundreds of miles away. Pelican Bay inmates resumed eating by Friday, Thornton said.

Family members of SHU inmates at Tehachapi told the Los Angeles Times they were unaware of the protest. Unlike a larger statewide hunger strike last year, Thornton said corrections officials had no warning and little information about the underlying issues of this strike. Some hunger strikers have complained about prison food and property rules, while others are raising complaints about proposed gang control policies.

"We don't quite know who is spearheading this effort," she said.

Currently, California prison officials put inmates who are believed to belong to gangs in segregated housing, separated from the main prison population, holding them in cells more than 22 hours a day. The state proposes a "Step Down" program that would allow inmates to move back into general housing after four years. Inmate advocates criticize that process as too slow, and say it still allows inmates to be segregated based on "evidence" of gang activity that includes tattoos and art.


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--Paige St. John in Crescent City, Calif.