California inmates end hunger strike over prison conditions

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 05, 2013 12:03 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California inmates have ended a two-month-old hunger strike that ranked as the largest in state history and took aim at a policy of keeping some prisoners in near-isolation for years, corrections officials and inmates said on Thursday.

Inmates credited a move by two California legislators to hold hearings on conditions behind bars as a reason for stopping their strike, which at its peak in July saw about 30,000 prisoners refusing food.

Some 100 inmates at two California prisons remained on hunger strike as of Wednesday afternoon, with 40 having refused state-issued meals continuously since the strike began on July 8, state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas said.

But by Wednesday evening, they had begun taking food again, and all inmates who had been participating in the hunger strike were now taking meals or had otherwise started "the process of re-feeding," the department said in a statement.

"We are pleased this dangerous strike has been called off before any inmates became seriously ill," California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard said in a statement.

He said the prisons would "continue to implement the substantive reforms in California's Security Housing Units that we initiated two years ago." He gave no further details but said last month that most of the prisoners' core demands had already been addressed.

Simas described the strike as the largest such action in California prisons history but said some prisoners with money who were counted as participating may have actually been eating during the action because they could buy food at prison canteens.

In ending the mass action, during which some participants staved off starvation by drinking sports drinks, prisoners said in a statement that most of their demands remained unmet.

"We have deemed it to be in the best interest of our cause to suspend our hunger strike action until further notice," they said in the statement, issued by the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity group.

"To be clear, our peaceful protest of resistance to our continuous subjection to decades of systemic state sanctioned torture via the system's solitary confinement units is far from over," the statement added.

Two California legislators have called for hearings in October on prison conditions.

"I am gratified that the hunger strike has ended without further sacrifice or risk of human life," state Senator Loni Hancock, a Democrat and one of the two legislators who called for the hearings, said in a statement.

"The issues raised by the hunger strike are real - concerns about the use and conditions of solitary confinement in California's prisons - and can no longer be ignored," she said.

Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the other legislator who called for the hearings, said in a statement, "I'm happy that no one had to die in order to bring attention to these conditions."

In July, one inmate who had been participating in the hunger strike died, but corrections officials said that was being investigated as a suicide.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Maureen Bavdek and Richard Chang)