California Men's Colony inmates join mass prison hunger strike

acornejo@thetribunenews.comJuly 11, 2013 

An aerial view of California Men's Colony near San Luis Obispo.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A mass hunger strike protesting long-term solitary confinement and other prison conditions has spread to 24 state prisons, including the California Men’s Colony.

On Monday, at the start of the strike, 30,000 California inmates refused meals. By Thursday inmates at 24 of 33 state prisons and four out-of-state facilities were participating.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued a statement Thursday saying 12,421 inmates have missed nine consecutive meals, the number recognized by the department as a hunger strike, since its start Monday.

In addition, more than 1,000 prisoners statewide have refused to do their work assignments or attend classes.

It is unknown how many inmates at CMC are participating.

Local prison officials were directed by the Department of Corrections to not release the number of prisoners participating in the strike or confirm the prisons where the strike is happening.

“Inmates have told prison staff that they are feeling pressured and coerced to participate in this activity,” said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “All of this is being ordered at direction of people who are members of prison gangs. We are concerned about the safety of inmates who are being pressured to do this — that is something we need to mindful of.”

The strike is centered on inmates’ complaints about being held long-term in security housing units, or solitary confinement.

In high-security prisons, such as Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California, some prisoners have reportedly been kept in solitary confinement for decades.

California Men’s Colony, a medium/minimum-security prison, which houses 5,142 inmates, does not have a Security Housing Unit.

Instead, problem prisoners are kept in an administrative segregation unit. The average minimum stay in that unit is about a week; however, if an investigation takes longer, a prisoner could be kept there until it is complete, said spokesman Frank Perez.

Prisoners in the segregated unit are kept away from the general population but given controlled time outside of their cell in small, gated outdoor yards.

Perez said the cells are just like other cells, except separate from other prisoners.

In January 2011, a group of 1,000 California Men’s Colony inmates went more than three days without eating in a demonstration over a series of grievances including routine lockdowns, cuts in programs and the execution of old rules.

At the time, those inmates continued to attend to their other duties, such as work, classes and doctor’s and dental appointments.

That was the largest hunger strike at California Men’s Colony.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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