CMC inmates not eating in cafeteria to protest program cuts, lockdowns, official says

About 1,000 inmates participate; hunger strike disputed

clambert@thetribunenews.com, jlamb@thetribunenews.comJanuary 26, 2011 

Since Monday, about 1,000 inmates at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo have refused to eat their meals in the prison’s cafeteria in a demonstration over a series of grievances, a CMC spokesman said Wednesday.

The demonstration by the inmates — which officials called unprecedented in its size and organization — is expected to end this morning, Lt. Dean Spears said. The inmates, all of whom are housed in one of four quads on the facility’s eastern side, are demonstrating over grievances that include rolling lockdowns, cuts in programs and newly stringent execution of old rules, Spears said.

Some of the issues the inmates are responding to have been in place for a year or more. Cuts to college-level courses and vocational training programs happened last January, and the rolling lockdowns — in which a housing facility is locked down for an eight-hour shift every other day to free up staff to fill vacant positions — was initiated last March.

One is more recent: The quad is overseen by a new captain who has renewed an emphasis with prison staff on enforcing the facility’s rules and regulations, such as making sure that inmates cease whatever they’re doing when an alarm sounds, Spears said.

“He’s maybe pushing it a little harder than the previous captain,” said Patrick Campbell, chapter president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Campbell, who has worked at CMC since 2002, said he’s never seen similar demonstrations or hunger strikes, nor has he heard of any that compare. “They put a lot of thought into this — (being) this organized and not being disruptive.”

About 100 inmates went on a one-day hunger strike in 2005 to protest cuts to work and education programs, but they agreed to end their strike after talking to prison officials.

Spears refrained from calling the events of the past three days a hunger strike, because the inmates have access to food from the canteen, and officials aren’t tracking who is eating and who isn’t.

“The only thing they are not doing is going to the dining room to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said. The inmates have been attending to their other duties such as work, classes and showing up to doctor’s and dental appointments.

He said doctors are monitoring the situation.

However, the wife of one of the inmates, who did not want to be identified out of concern for her husband’s safety, characterized the event as a hunger strike and said her husband, a diabetic at CMC on an assault conviction, wasn’t eating.

After three days of a hunger strike, she said, the inmates must be evaluated by medical personnel. “I’m concerned about his (health) and all the other people too,” she said.

Spears said he confirmed Monday that all insulin-dependent inmates received their meals. He said during a verified hunger strike, inmates are monitored after they refuse to eat three consecutive meals and medical evaluations are given after 72 hours.

Spears said the prison’s administration has been in ongoing negotiations with the Men’s Advisory Council, which represents the inmates.

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