2013 California prisoner hunger strike

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The 2013 California prisoner hunger Strike started on July 8, 2013 involving over 29,000 inmates in protest of the state's use of solitary confinement practices and ended on September 5, 2013.[1][2] The hunger strike was organized by inmates in long term solitary in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in protest of inmates housed there that were in solitary confinement indefinitely for having ties to gangs.[2] Another hunger strike that added to the movement started the week before in High Desert State Prison where the focus of their hunger strike was to demand cleaner facilities, better food and better access to the library.[2]

Triggered by the two month hunger strike, lawmakers agreed to hold public hearings on the conditions within California's maximum security prisons where this prolonged solitary confinement has taken place[1] Following this announcement, a week later on September 4, 2013, there were 100 inmates in two prisons on a hunger strike; 40 of them had been on a hunger strike continuously since July 8. All remaining hunger strikers, in light of the lawmaker's promise, resumed eating on September 5, 2013.[3]

Human rights concerns and solitary confinement[edit]

Solitary confinement in United States' prisons is the practice of detaining prisoners in a single cell for between 22 and 24 hours a day.[4] The cell usually contains a concrete bed, a stationary stool and toilet sink combinations.[4] Human Rights Watch, an independent organization that focuses on human rights, found that prolonged use of solitary confinement is inconsistent with respecting the inmates humanity.[5] Human Rights Watch also found that prolonged use of solitary confinement can violate the 8th amendment, and in some cases be considered torture.[5] Amnesty International, a global human rights NGO, voiced support the hunger striker's concerns as well as saying that California has fallen short of international law and the necessary standards for humane treatment due to California's use of solitary confinement.[6] Two years prior to the California Prison Hunger Strike, in October 2011, UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez said that solitary confinement must come to an end as it is a violation of human rights.[7]

Health concerns[edit]

Prisoners' attorneys and doctors expressed concern over the strikers' potential health risks. Prison officials, however, implemented inhumane tactics in an attempt to force prisoners to end their strike.[8] Prisoners were denied access to their medications, and were denied medical oversight.[8] Some of the prisoners were only refusing solid foods, and they were denied access to any liquid substance other than water.[8] These cruel methods of punishment received an abundance of backlash from the medical community, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) was heavily criticized.[8] As a result, the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit about medical care in state prisons, the federal receiver in charge of prison health care and the CDCR jointly submitted a request to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on August 19, 2013, for an order authorizing the refeeding under specified conditions of inmate-patients who were participating in the hunger strike. Judge Thelton E. Henderson granted the order the same day.[9] By the time the order was put into effect, the number of participants in the strike had dropped exponentially. There was less than 200 prisoners still fasting, and numerous others had been hospitalized.[8] There was only one fatality from the strike. Billy "Guero" Sell died on July 22, 2013 after requesting medical attention for seven days leading up to his death.[8]

Legal actions[edit]

The lawsuit, Todd Ashker, et al., vs. Governor of the State of California, et al., was brought by 10 Pelican Bay State Prison inmates who were housed in the Security Housing Unit (SHU). The lawsuit alleged that long-term confinement in the SHU violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment as well as the Fourteenth Amendment's clause for due process.[10] The court case on September 1, 2015 was settled resulting in the termination of indeterminate solitary confinement in California and greatly reducing the number of individuals in solitary confinement as a whole.[10] The strike was the largest hunger strike in the history of the state of California, but ultimately its results were not very impactive. Many prisoners feel that there is still much change needed as the debriefing process for gang affiliated prisoners was not revised.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b John, Paige St (2013-09-05). "Inmates end California prison hunger strike". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-06-02.
  2. ^ a b c Medina, Jennifer (July 11, 2013). "Hunger Strike by California Inmates, Already Large, Is Expected to Be Long". The New York Times. Retrieved February 14, 2017.
  3. ^ https://cdcrtoday.blogspot.com/2013/09/cdcr-secretary-jeff-beard-issues.html
  4. ^ a b "Solitary Confinement: Torture in U.S. Prisons". Center for Constitutional Rights. Retrieved 2017-06-02.
  5. ^ a b "US: Look Critically at Widespread Use of Solitary Confinement". Human Rights Watch. 2012-06-18. Retrieved 2017-06-02.
  6. ^ "Why 30,000 California Prisoners Are On Hunger Strike". Amnesty International USA. July 10, 2013. Retrieved February 14, 2017.
  7. ^ "UN Special Rapporteur on torture calls for the prohibition of solitary confinement". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 18 October 2011. Archived from the original on November 6, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "California inmates hunger strike to improve prison conditions, 2013 | Global Nonviolent Action Database". nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  9. ^ "California gets OK to force-feed some hunger-striking inmates". Reuters. August 20, 2013. Retrieved 2017-06-02.
  10. ^ a b "Ashker v. Governor of California". Center for Constitutional Rights. Retrieved 2017-06-02.

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