Thousands of California Prisoners Are on Hunger Strike Right Now
According to some estimates, 30,000 prisoners in California were on hunger strike as of last week, and thousands more still are. Contacted by VICE, a spokesman for the California prison system refused to confim the 30,000 number. If it’s true it would make the current strike the largest in California history. “I don’t even know where that number came from,” he said, insisting that the hunger strike could not be properly considered to have started until late Wednesday, because the state doesn’t acknolwedge that what it calls a “hunger strike disturbance” exists until inmates have refused nine consecutive meals. “Until then,’” the spokesman said, “we don’t know if it’s a disturbance or if they just don’t like tacos.”
Officially, more than twenty-five hundred prisoners were still refusing meals as of this week. The numbers dropped over the weekend—down from 30,000 a week prior and from 7,600 on Friday. But even that total was still more than the 6,000 who participated in the last, partially succesful, hunger strike to hit the state, in 2011.
Even if you’ve heard about the protests—they’ve been widely covered in California, but briefly mentioned, if at all, nationally—you might be forgiven for not quite understanding what it’s all about. Because California’s prisons have been all over the news, recently: There are the nearly ten thousand prisoners a three-judge panel has ordered to be released, to alleviate overcrowding in the system. There are the 150 female prisoners who were by some accounts coerced into accepting sterilizations, and the doctor who suggested the cost of the sterilizations would save the state future welfare payments. There are the thousands of prisoners who adifferent Federal overseer has ordered to be moved out of the Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons, where over the last several years dozens of high-risk prisoners may have been killed by Valley Fever. There is the mental health care that has been found to be illegally deficient in the CDCR system, and the overcrowding in the system that was found, separately, by the Supreme Court no less, to have created a situation in which medical care in California prisons was of such a poor quality that it fell below the 8th Amendment standard barring cruel and unusual punishment. All of this has been in the news recently, and all of it has contributed to the spread of the strike to dozens of facilities across the system.