California's prison system has long been plagued by controversy over allegedly poor conditions, and now, tensions are coming to a head. As reports emerge that hundreds of female inmates were sterilized without approval (and coerced into the procedure), 29,000 prisoners in the California prison system are now on their third day of a long-planned hunger strike to protest isolation policies.
A bit of background: California state prisons have policies in place allowing officials to isolate anyone suspected of involvement in prison gangs—indefinitely. Originally implemented as a solution to gang violence with the intention of separating and punishing the perpetrators, the system has led to many suspects being kept in solitary confinement for years. The psychological effects of solitary confinement are well-documented: the policy been described as torture, and as "cruel, but not unusual."
Officials began releasing inmates from isolation last year when they proved to have no gang ties: so far, half of the once-isolated inmates are back in the general prison population. The strikers are now demanding a series of changes be made to the policies, including a five-year limit on solitary confinement, and educational and rehabilitative policies for those in isolation.
Prison officials have confirmed that 29,000 prisoners are protesting, and now that they have refused food for three days, their actions are officially being designated as a hunger strike.
It's been a dramatic week in prisoners' rights activism to say the least: On Monday, actor and rapper Mos Def also released dramatic footage of his attempt at being force-fed. The controversial practice is still legal in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, and is occurring there each day as inmates continue on hunger strike in protest their indefinite confinement. (If you can't get to the end, trust us: he couldn't go through with it.)