Friday, July 1, 2011

California Prisoners On Indefinite Hunger Strike Against Brutal Conditions and Isolation

On July 1st, dozens of prisoners in long-term isolation units in Pelican Bay and other prisons in California began an indefinite hunger strike to support their demands for improvements to their conditions. These men are held in their cells, alone, 22½-24 hours per day, with any remainder spent alone in an exercise yard. At the unsubstantiated word of another coerced inmate or at the whim of a prison administrator, prisoners are forced into this hellish life which has been clearly shown to induce psychological breakdown. The only way out is to “debrief” or inform on other prisoners. This creates a vicious circle where men desperate to escape to even slightly less miserable circumstances will give rumours, allegations, or even baseless fiction as evidence, earning unaffiliated or inactive prisoners active gang member status. They in turn can only get out of isolation by debriefing on gang activities or members of which or whom they may know nothing, a situation which clearly induces false accusations.

In addition to mentally- and spiritually-fatal isolation, these prisoners are served unsanitary and unwholesome food, punished collectively for the actions of individuals, and routinely - and without reason - denied access to programs and amenities which are considered standard in similar facilities in other states and at the federal level, including self-help and educational programs, one phone call per week, and warm clothing.

In response to these conditions, and in direct contradiction of their portrayal as monsters who must be kept apart for their own safety, scores of men locked inside Pelican Bay and other facilities have united in pledging to put their own lives on the line in protest against these conditions. In the tradition of Bobby Sands – who died on hunger strike against the indignity of imprisonment 30 years ago – and supported by other prisoners undertaking strikes of limited duration, as well as unimprisoned supporters across the continent, they are starving themselves for 5 modest changes:
  1. Eliminate group punishments.
  2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
  3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement.
  4. Provide adequate food.
  5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

The US now holds over 2,000,000 prisoners, almost 100,000 of them in isolation. There are signs that this approach is being increasingly introduced into Canadian prisons. The federal government is doubling the Correction Services Canada (CSC) budget and building many new prisons to accommodate a massive rise in the number of prisoners as a result of new and upcoming legislation (for example, the “omnibus crime bill”) which all amount to one thing: more people in prison for longer. Searching for the 'best' ways to keep increasing numbers of Canadians locked up, CSC officials have visited "supermax" prisons in the US similar to Pelican Bay and estimated the cost of building additional long-term isolation units (or 'SHUs'). Canada is adopting the crime and punishment policies of the country with the world's highest incarceration rate.

To support the fight of tortured SHU inmates in the US is to fight against the Canadian government's attempts to implement and expand those policies here. Long-term isolation exists in Canada and must be abolished, but instead, if the ruling class gets its way, the practice will be expanded immensely. Let's show them that we will not accept it!

NOISE DEMO July 3, 12 pm @ Montreal prisons.
Meet at the corner of René-Levesque & Mackay. RSVP for transportation:

Noon-1:30pm, 1155 rue St-Alexandre at René-Lévesque Every Friday as long as the strike continues!

1pm Saturday, July 16th Dorchester Square (Peel metro): denounce Montreal’s prison contractors

Telephone: 514-570-6256

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