By Rory Carroll
A mass protest which has just entered its second month is playing out in the solitary confinement units of maximum security jails where an estimated 400 prisoners are refusing food to demand an end to what they call inhumane conditions.
Some have been hospitalised as their bodies, stripped of fat, now consume muscle, a point when health can be permanently damaged.
Inmates’ supporters held small rallies in Oakland and Los Angeles on Thursday to mark one month – 32 days – since the July 8 start of the protest. A “bike for the strike” event is scheduled in Oakland on Friday.
The core demand is an end to indefinite solitary confinement in Security Housing Units, known as SHUs. Some inmates have been in such cells for decades, prompting denunciations from Amnesty International and other human rights advocates.
Strike leaders – an unusual alliance of whites, African Americans and Latinos – say the conditions amount to torture and that the system for selecting those for segregation is callous and capricious. A condition of release into the general jail population is to “debrief” – inform – against gang members.
Authorities reject the criticism and say the strike is an attempt by gang leaders to regain the ability to terrorise fellow prisoners, staff and communities throughout California. Each side accuses the other of brutality and manipulation. There is little sign of negotiation or compromise.