In 2011, California prisoners organized two waves of hunger strikes to protest heinous prison conditions and abuses. The hunger strike actions, initiated by a group of inmates in the Secure Housing Unit of Pelican Bay State Prison, spread to one-third of California’s prisons and at their peak included the supportive participation of more than 12,000 prisoners.
Central among their demands was ending the practices and policies of extreme solitary confinement, in which prisoners are subjected to indefinite isolation, sensory deprivation and other forms of abuse and torture, in many cases for decades on end.
In California, thousands of prisoners are subject to agonizing, indefinite isolation, not because of illegal behavior or because they were found guilty of committing a criminal act, but because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has given them a “gang classification” based on unsubstantiated allegations of prison informants or even innocent association.
“Gang classification” or status is also a convenient catchall that can be used by prison authorities to throw inmate activists into the oblivion of isolation.