July 1st marks the two-year anniversary of the start of the 2011 Pelican Bay hunger strikes protesting indefinite solitary confinement and SHU conditions. The hunger strikes, each lasting three weeks, ended after CDCR agreed to negotiations with hunger strike representatives over their demands. In late 2012, the CDCR implemented a pilot program to release those held in the SHU on gang charges. Prisoners and their advocates have denounced the program for keeping the most objectionable aspects of the old program and expanding qualifications for SHU placement. Prisoners are calling for a hunger strike to begin on July 8, 2013, vowing not to eat until their demands are met.
“A lot of people aren’t aware that thousands are buried alive in solitary confinement cells in this country’s prisons – for no legit reason,” Todd Ashker reminded Truthout in a recent letter. Ashker should know – he has been locked in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison since 1990 after confidential informants claimed he was a gang member. In the SHU, which comprises half of Pelican Bay prison, people are locked into their cells for at least 22 hours a day. Prison administrators place them in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term for being accused of gang membership. These accusations often rely on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence. Hundreds have been confined within the SHU for over a decade. Until recently, the only way to be released from the SHU was to debrief, or provide information incriminating other prisoners, who are then placed in the SHU for an indeterminate sentence