Prison hunger strike over, prison official says

A woman in prison garb leads protesters in chants of solidarity with prisoners on a hunger strike outside a state government building in Downtown Los Angeles on Monday morning.
A woman in prison garb leads protesters in chants of solidarity with prisoners on a hunger strike outside a state government building in Downtown Los Angeles on Monday morning.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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The head of the state corrections department said Thursday that a three-week hunger strike by hundreds of California inmates has come to an end, although a group that has been suppporting the prisoners said they couldn't confirm that.

Representatives of the ACLU and other activists will give statements on the strike Friday morning at 10 a.m.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) told KPCC that inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison were eating.

"What I can confirm now is that we have individuals at Pelican Bay state Prison who have begun accepting meals," CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton told KPCC's Larry Mantle. In response to a question, Thornton clarified "Most of them are accepting food – not all."

Thornton said prisoners had accepted food last night and this morning, but added that inmates at several other prisons were still refusing to eat. "We're really in a state of monitoring right now," she said.

The federal receiver who oversees medical care in California state prisons, Nancy Kincaid, said her agency will continue monitoring the prisoners who were taking part in the hunger strike.

"We will continue our role in medical to monitor those who have not eaten and have some signs of physical effects of starvation," said Kincaid.

Kincaid said she's spoken with the head of Pelican Bay State Prison, who has told her more prisoners are eating, though not at their regular levels.

"I did speak with the CEO of healthcare at Pelican Bay a few minutes ago," Kincaid told KPCC's Larry Mantle, "who did confirm that the prisoners there are no longer on hunger strike and are accepting food."

Kincaid said officials will be monitoring prisoners' insulin, potassium and sodium magnesium levels as they reintroduce solid foods into former hunger strikers' diets.

At the height of the strike, Kincaid said 6,500 prisoners were refusing food at 13 prisons. As of Wednesday night, 775 were still being monitored.

More than 400 inmates in California prisons have refused food to protest what they call “inhumane” conditions in isolation units at Pelican Bay State Prison. Prisoners at Pelican Bay are among the state's most dangerous, and spend 23 hours a day in a cell, with one hour in a windowless concrete exercise yard. Prison reform advocates have called CDCR policy at Pelican Bay tantamount to 'torture', a charge CDCR vehemently denies.

"Our existing gang management policies, security policies have been refined through litigation through the decades," Thornton said. She added that some prisoner demands were already being addressed as a matter of CDCR strategy, including relieving prisoner overcrowding, reducing reliance on lockdowns, and assessing existing gang member policies.

The hunger strikes have taken place at Pelican Bay State Prison, Calipatria, Corcoran, and the California Correctional Institute, among others.

“Hunger strikes are a dangerous and ineffective way for prisoners to attempt to negotiate,” prisons secretary Matthew Cate wrote in a press release. “We will now seek to stabilize operations for all inmates and continue our work to improve the safety and security of our prison system statewide.”