Second hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions

By: Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in California held a second three-week hunger strike in September and October to draw attention to the inhuman conditions they are kept in. 

According to supporters of the prisoners, the hunger strike was ended after state officials negotiated with the inmates and agreed to several demands, including a review of cases in which prisoners have been kept in isolation because of their alleged gang affiliation rather than anything they did while in prison. 

Back in June, the Pelican Bay prisoners began a first hunger strike that latest nearly a month. The action spread to other facilities until more than 6,000 prisoners from around the state were participating, making it one of the largest hunger strikes in history. 

The prisoners were promised by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that it would implement substantial changes. But the strike was resumed in September because prisoners felt state officials weren't acting in good faith. This round of the hunger strike involved as many as 12,000 prisoners refusing meals at some point, according to prisoners' families. 

At Pelican Bay and other facilities in California, thousands of prisoners are held in isolation in the SHUs, confined to windowless cells for as much as 22.5 hours a day. There is no work, recreational or educational programs. Alleged gang members are assigned to indefinite confinement in the SHUs, even though a U.S. court held in 1995 that enduring these conditions "may press the outer bounds of what humans psychologically tolerate."

Over 500 prisoners have been held longer than 10 years in the SHUs, and 78 had spent more than 20 years there.

We in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty believe this is nothing short of torture. The CEDP issued a statement in support of the prisoners. CEDP members are actively involved in the coalition formed in the Bay Area to support the strikers. 

For more information on the struggle of California prisoners and how to support them, go to