On what would have marked the 60th day of hunger strikes, Californian prison inmates began eating again Thursday after their demands were met — to a limited extent — by the state's lawmakers.
The very public, nearly nine-week strike had frustrated Californian lawmakers, two of whom admitted: "The issues raised by the hunger strike are real, and can no longer be ignored." The protest hoped for a re-definition of the conditions of solitary confinement, and the state's lawmakers called to set up a hearing for fall to re-examine the issues the hunger strikers were protesting. The hearings are now scheduled, and legislators asked prisoners to stop protesting in the meantime, prompting the end of the strike.
On July 8, more than 30,000 inmates across two-thirds of California's prisons began refusing food. Until the hearing was announced, 41 of those strikers had not eaten a bite in nearly two months, and some were described as gravely ill. More than a hundred more were refusing meals at the time of the announcement. A federal judge ruled that prison officials could force-feed those for whom it was "necessary," though that move ignited controversy. Force-feeding has routinely been compared to torture.
Back in June, Bustle reported that the inmates were seeking an end to the state's conditions for solitary confinement:
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.
At present, California has roughly 10,000 inmates in isolation chambers — some temporarily, while others have been there for years. More than 400 have been there for more than a decade.
Said the state's prison chief: “We are pleased this dangerous strike has been called off before any inmates became seriously ill. CDCR will continue to implement the substantive reforms in California’s Security Housing Units that we initiated two years ago.”
These changes include a smaller number of conditions for which inmates can be sent to isolated housing units, and easier routes for isolated inmates to return to normal cooperative prison life.