Saturday, October 22, 2011

From The Partisan Defense Committee-California:Sadistic Jailers Crack Down on Prison Hunger Strikers-Support The Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers!

Click on the headline to link to the Partisan Defense Committee website.

Workers Vanguard No. 988
14 October 2011

California:Sadistic Jailers Crack Down on Prison Hunger Strikers

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)

On September 26, California prisoners renewed their hunger strike against the barbarism of solitary confinement in the state’s notorious “supermax” and other prisons. For three weeks in July, thousands of prisoners starved themselves to demand access to sunlight, decent food, weekly phone calls and that human contact be allowed for those locked up in the concrete isolation chambers of the Security Housing Unit (SHU). The strike ended when the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to allow the prisoners to have wall calendars and woolen caps to wear. The state’s jailers claimed these token measures as evidence of the “good faith” of their promises to consider other demands, particularly a review of the “debriefing” procedures. These procedures mandate that in order to get out of solitary, prisoners have to snitch out other inmates as “gang members”—a tag which is a one-way ticket to the SHU.

In a September statement, prisoners at the Pelican Bay SHU wrote that despite the July hunger strike, they “continue to be subjected to CDCR’s torturous human rights violations…barbarous policies and practices.” As the statement details, even to be allowed to buy art pens and paper or to have their picture taken annually to send to family or friends, SHU prisoners must have a record free of any discipline for a year. While a prison memo promising these “privileges” was being handed out, a jail guard sergeant was ordering his staff to immediately write inmates up for disciplinary violations.

Far from reviewing the “debriefing” procedure, at an August 23 hearing before the California State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, CDCR undersecretary Scott Kernan said that the department planned to widen its criteria for sending prisoners to solitary! The label of “security threat” that has been placed on supposed gang members will now be applied to inmates considered to be part of any “disruptive group.” The general population yards at the Pelican Bay and Tehachapi prisons are already being converted into SHU units.

Under order by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state of California is being forced to reduce its overcrowded prisons, and the state’s jailers are worried there will be less money for them. Noting that solitary confinement costs nearly twice as much as regular prison, the Pelican Bay prisoners’ statement pointed out that the CDCR’s plans to expand these torture chambers are designed to “maintain their staff and funding status quo.” Hellish conditions in the jails are the bread and butter of California’s prison guards’ “union,” one of the most powerful political forces in the state.

Now, prison officials have branded the hunger strike as a “mass disturbance.” In a truly Orwellian twist, they have threatened to remove food from the cells of those participating in the strike! A CDCR spokesperson said that 15 hunger strikers in the general population at Pelican Bay have been sent to solitary “because they were identified as coercing other inmates”…into starving themselves! The air conditioning in the SHU is maintained at full blast to keep temperatures freezing. As one strike leader told a lawyer for the prisoners: “It’s like arctic air coming through, blowing at top speed. It’s torture. They’re trying to break us.”

Two Bay Area lawyers who served as mediators for the hunger strikers in July have been banned from state prisons as a “security threat.” One reported that prisoners are being denied both family and legal visits and that their mail is being stopped.

The brutal and sadistic crackdown on prisoners who are simply asking for some vestige of humanity from their jailers throws into stark relief the organized violence of the capitalist state—its cops, courts, military and prison guards. As we wrote in “Hunger Strike in California Prison Hell” (WV No. 984, 5 August):

“The prisons are the concentrated expression of the depravity of this society, a key instrument in coercing, torturing and brutalizing those who have been cast off as the useless residue of a system rooted in exploitation and racial oppression. Elementary humanity demands that the SHU and all other solitary confinement chambers be abolished. But it will take nothing short of proletarian socialist revolution to destroy the capitalists’ prison system and sweep away all the barbaric institutions of the bourgeois state.”

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