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Prison Hunger Strikes Protest Gang Policy

| October 17, 2012
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A hunger strike is continuing at one California prison but ended on Wednesday at another, according to Terry Thornton, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections.

A unit of cells in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State prison. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

Some of the strikers were protesting a new policy aimed at reducing activity by gangs and other “security threat groups,” she said. Others did not give a reason for the strike, or said they were protesting food or other conditions at the prisons, said Thornton.

She said 69 inmates at California State Prison, Corcoran, were refusing food, some of them since Oct. 13.

Meanwhile at California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, inmates started refusing food on Oct. 10. The number fluctuated, reaching 208 before declining to 135 yesterday and zero today, said Thornton.

She said did not know why the strike ended in Tehachapi.

And she pointed out that the department has not yet launched its new gang management policies which would change the definitions used to determine which prisoners are sent to high-security housing units.

A report by California Watch reporter Michael Montgomery described the new policy this way:

The changes will give prison staff more flexibility in dealing with a range of “security threat groups,” according to an Aug. 30 corrections department notice sent to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the powerful union representing prison guards.

The new policies will put California more closely in line with “recognized national standards and strategies,” staving off the “inevitable litigation and court mandated changes the State would face by remaining exclusively reliant on the current … system,” according to the document.

But revisions in a June 29 corrections document obtained by California Watch, The Bay Citizen’s sister site, suggest that officials are moving away from the narrower focus on specific criminal or violent acts. Rather, they appear to be reviving controversial guidelines that have allowed authorities to send inmates to the special units for violations such as gang-related tattoos and drawings.

Montgomery’s article quotes advocates for prisoners who were critical of the changes.

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