Thursday, July 21, 2011

California Prisons Seek to Force Feed Hunger Strikers

Whereas I wouldn't for one minute deny there are a lot of bad buggers locked up within the US correctional retribution system and it's probably one of the last places on earth any of us would wish to find ourselves, but for this story to mean anything, one has to appreciate just how much the use of solitary confinement is abused by prison authorities throughout the US.

Offences for which a prisoner can find himself in solitary confinement, for months, if not years, are as numerous as they are petty. Anything from a wrong look at a guard to involvement in activism (of a legal nature) can see a prisoner held under conditions that where were it an animal being kept as such, the keeper would find himself stood in a court of law. In certain facilities the secure housing units are as much as sixty feet underground. See below.

There is much in the sidebar and there are many links to the shameful goings on in the Prison Nation that is America.

California prison inmates who have chosen to go hunger strike due to barbarous conditions they deem akin to torture risk a number of health problems and their own lives to make this powerful statement--and the fact that officials are seeking a court order to force-feed them feels like it serves to illustrate their entire point about being treated as sub-human. via alternet

Top prison official to seek court orders to force-feed hunger-striking inmates

More than 400 inmates in California prisons have refused food to protest what they call “inhumane” conditions in isolation units. Some of those inmates have not eaten for nearly three weeks, and say they're prepared to die to make their point. On Tuesday, the head of the state corrections department said he’d seek a court order to allow officials to force-feed inmates if necessary to save their lives.

Pelican Bay

Inmates in the SHU get an hour a day in a concrete yard with high walls and no direct sunlight. The other 23 hours, they spend in a cell. They and their supporters call those conditions “torturous,” and say Corrections’ policy of indefinitely detaining inmates identified as gang members in the isolation units only makes matters worse.

The hunger strikers at Pelican Bay State Prison, Calipatria, Corcoran, and the California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi say they’re prepared to die so they can force Corrections to end the practice. But the Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate says he’ll intervene to make sure prisoners don't get hurt.

"My view of it as I sit here today – and this may change – is that I’ll seek court orders to ask that they be force-fed," says Cate.

He adds that inmates at the Pelican Bay SHU who started the hunger strike were isolated for violent behavior in other prisons.

"I’m looking at the disciplinary history of one of the leaders of this hunger strike," Cate says. "[He} has - one, two, three, four, five - has stabbed five inmates on separate occasions, has been found in possession of a weapon one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight times and has assaulted staff on three different occasions."

Many of California's 3.900 SHU inmates are among the most dangerous men in the state. They're unable to make phone calls and have limited contact with other prisoners and guards. When family members visit, they’re separated by a thick glass wall.

Secretary Cate says the majority of SHU inmates are active in the Mexican Mafia, the Aryan Brotherhood or other powerful prison gangs. Gang membership will earn an inmate an indefinite detention in the SHU. But Cate says the department offers a way out.

"If you want to leave Pelican Bay, just raise your hand, go through the debrief process and disavow the gang - and we’ll move you to a 'sensitive needs' yard a protective housing yard somewhere in the state."

Secretary Cate says 2,000 inmates have been debriefed and have abandoned gang life. He knows of none who suffered retaliation from gangs. But he acknowledges some risk to inmates and their families. Inmates say debriefing is a “snitching policy” that gets other inmates tossed in the SHU on flimsy evidence.

Prisoner rights attorney Charles Carbone has sued Corrections over SHU policies - and won. But Carbone says when prison officials agree to changes, they don’t follow through. He says when they claim something is proof that an inmate is still active in a gang, they still don’t provide a reason why.

"So as an example, if you have an address in an address book, you have to be able to communicate that," Carbone says. "Lo and behold, the prisoner was communicating with the other person about gang life - not about the weather."

Carbone says he continues to get calls from inmates' family members crying because Corrections has labeled their loved one a gang member and sent them to the SHU.

Patricia Aguilar has walked that road. Her husband has served a decade of his 25-year sentence for a third-strike offense in the SHU at Pelican Bay. She says Corrections investigators recently determined that a flag on a folder in her husband's cell means he’s still active in the gang. more

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Previous: Torture in Our Own Backyards: The Fight Against Supermax Prisons

Imagine living in an 8-by-12 prison cell, in solitary confinement, for eight years straight. Your entire world consists of a dank, cinder block room with a narrow *window* only three inches high, opening up to an outdoor cement cage, cynically dubbed, "the yard." If you're lucky, you spend one hour five days a week in that outdoor cage, where you gaze up through a wire mesh roof and hope for a glimpse of the sun. If you talk back to the guards or act out in any way, you might only venture outside one precious hour per week.

You go eight years without shaking a hand or experiencing any physical human contact. The prison guards bark orders and touch you only while wearing leather gloves, and then it's only to put you in full cuffs and shackles before escorting you to the cold showers, where they watch your every move.....

*window* If indeed the cell even has a window. there are Supermax facilities where the secure housing units (SHU) are sixty feet underground and like all such places the cell lights shine twenty four seven. More, and really a must read.

It is for reasons such as this that I don't get all pissy over Bradley Manning being held under the conditions that he is. (has been)

The oubliette (the forgotten) at Wawrick Castle England, a hole, roughly 4ftx2ftx2ft covered with a metal grill. How much despair would a person be capable of, being lowered into that place and knowing quite literally, that they were being forgotten?

Not come very far have we?

Related: 21st-Century Slaves: How Corporations Exploit Prison Labor


su said...

not come very far at all.

brilliant post.
note how the pedophiles walk free, but the holders of a sacred herb have 3 srikes and then life as a slave.
the american prison system, privately owned slavery backed by government.
i do wish that asteroid would come now.

Himself said...

Thanks Su.

There has been quite a lot in print lately over the use of prison (slave) labour, I'm sure a quick Google would throw up most of it.

Here's something else on a slightly different note that will be of interest. But for this one case that has seen some kind of justice, there must be thousands of cases of murders by police, and I mean thousands, that never see the light of day.

Some of the details, not just of the shootings, but of the system as a whole, don't bear thinking about.