A crowd of about 75 people on Monday rallied downtown outside of the Ronald Reagan State Building to kick off the start of a hunger strike in state prisons to protest a form of solitary confinement that they claim is torture.
The Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition organized the rally, which included members from various prison and human rights groups in Los Angeles, to show opposition to Security Housing Units.
About 30,000 inmates across two-thirds of the 34 state prisons refused state-issued breakfast on Monday morning. In addition, 2,300 inmates refused to go to work or take their usual educational classes, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,
"The SHU conditions are torturous. They're not right. I don't want my tax money supporting it," said Bilal Ali, a speaker and organizer with the coalition. "The prisoners are saying that they screwed up and have to do their time, but they can't be tortured."Prisoners in Security Housing Units are forced to spend 23 hours a day in a small, window-less room with little contact with others. Coalition members have been hosting events throughout California to push for five changes to the system be presented
to state officials. Prisoner demands call for state officials to reform policies that punish groups for the actions of individuals, stop rewarding those who provide information on others, improve nutrition, institute constructive programs for those in solitary confinement and curtail the long-term use of the Security Housing Units.
CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton said reforms made in October have already met the demands of prisoners and strikers.
The state started the Step-Down Program to allow inmates to earn placement in general housing without relinquishing membership to a gang. The program is an incentive-based system that allows inmates housed in Security Housing Units to increase their privileges by refraining from gang behavior, eventually letting them reside in regular housing again.
"We feel the reforms address their concerns," Thornton said. "We are providing for individual accountability, and we've increased due process in gang validation process."
CDCR officials will not recognize the hunger strike until more meals have been missed and claim the Security Housing Units are not "solitary confinement."
Thornton said 4,527 inmates on Friday were housed in Security Housing Units in California.