Updated 7/18/2013 – Approximately two thirds of the state’s 33 prisons are currently striking. It is estimated that the number of striking inmates, on hunger strike, range from a minimum of 12,000 to much higher numbers. Originally, this article focused on one of the main demands, the excessive use of solitary confinement in California prisons. The striker’s demands include an increase in hourly wages (currently 13 cents); the restoration of educational, rehabilitative, vocational, mental, and physical health services recently removed from the state prison budgets. The striker’s demands are not unreasonable. The demands are for rehabilitation and the basic right to be treated humanely.
Thousands of inmates in California began refusing meals two weeks ago to support inmates held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison. The hunger strike across California’s prisons continued as inmates protested the use of solitary confinement for those suspected of having ties to prison gangs. Inmates can be held in isolation indefinitely for decades at California’s isolated northern Pelican Bay prison. Prisonpath is not a defender of gangs or their leaders, but we all should remember what Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Russian novelist said almost 150 years ago, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
We have posted before numerous articles about the harm of extended solitary confinement. Let us now consider California’s inmates response to this extreme punishment. California’s prisons chief, Secretary Jeffery Beard, says inmates who are refusing meals to protest the state’s solitary confinement program for gang leaders are harming their own cause. Secretary Beard did not discussed the other demands for effective rehabilitation.
Inmates have chosen nonviolence to express their beliefs about the extensive use of solitary confinement in California’s prisons and the lack now of programs for rehabilitation. The inmates are not rioting and are not acting out their opposition in violent ways. Rather, the inmates are following the principles of nonviolent protest as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. You may not agree with the inmate’s cause, but all of us including California’s prison chief should praise their nonviolent protest – “It’s a good thing.”