A widespread California prison hunger strike has entered into its second day on Wednesday. Nearly 30,000 inmates in at least 20 of the state’s 33 prisons and all four of California’s private prisons located outside of the state are said to be participating.
In addition, 2,300 prisoners refused to attend work or classes or claimed illness, as part of the strike.
Officially, an inmate is not acknowledged as being on a hunger strike until he or she has missed nine consecutive meals. Most of the almost 30,000 will not be considered on hunger strike until Wednesday evening.
If and when the striking inmates are classified as such, it could become one of the largest prison protests in US history. The strike was organized to coincide with the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month in which Muslims practice fasting during daylight hours.
Tuesday ten inmates participating in the strike were placed under medical observation. The ten, reports Huffington Post, were among a small group of prisoners at the Oregon-bordering Pelican Bay State Prison who organized the protest.
Why are so many inmates striking? Though there are demands for better conditions and opportunities, the main focus of the California prison hunger strike seems to be on the treatment of inmates in solitary confinement.
California has a questionable practice involving the indefinite detention of inmates considered to be dangerous gang members. Leaders of the strike say that there is a pattern of “state-sanctioned torture” that affects thousands of prisoners, and this includes the frequent use of long-term solitary confinement.
Currently there are more than 10,000 California inmates in solitary confinement, dozens of whom have been there for more than 20 years.
Though the Pelican Bay inmates have formally declared their intentions, LA Times says others that have joined in have added their own demands. Many of these involve the treatment of prisoners serving life sentences, who are given few social programs and little or no opportunity to have family visitors.
The California prison hunger strike comes at a particularly difficult time for California leaders, including Governor Jerry Brown, who has recently attempted to delay federal judges’ orders directing the state to release thousands from the state’s unconstitutional prisons.