Organizing continues over mistreatment of inmates
A contingent of Occupy the Hood activists held a meeting in Pershing Square yesterday to raise awareness over the treatment of California inmates and the state’s third prisoner hunger strike in less than a year.
On Dec. 19, 2011, three prisoners sent a petition to the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR, “for the redress and reform of current inhumane conditions” in the Administrative Segregation Unit at Corcoran State Prison, according to the San Francisco Bay View.
Among the demands of prisoners are adequate legal assistance and medical care, that their food be kept fresh and free of insects and that they be afforded due process when being sentenced to Security Housing Units, or SHUs.
According to the website Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, as of Feb. 9, 30 Corcoran inmates were still striking. One prisoner has died, but it is not confirmed if the hunger strike was the cause of death, according to Solitary Watch, a website dedicated to shedding light on prisoner mistreatment.
It was issues concerning the SHUs that led to the previous two hunger strikes, which at one point involved over 6,000 inmates. In SHUs, prisoners are kept in small, isolated cells for 23 hours a day with no direct sunlight. Many are held in SHUs for years, some even decades.
Kendra Castaneda’s husband is currently being held in an Administrative Segregation Unit, or ASU, at Calipatria State Prison. She spoke to activists at the Pershing Square meeting yesterday. Her husband was sent to the ASU, she said, based on a tattoo he had since the age of 15 and the testimony of one or more confidential informants who said he was affiliated with a gang.
“He was sent to segregation [with] no human contact,” she said. “I haven’t seen him in one year. My daughter hasn’t seen him either. They canceled his visits, and recently, his appeal was denied. He is on his way to Pelican Bay State Prison to be in the SHU for the next seven years.”
The CDCR does offer inmates a path out of the SHU, which is to “debrief,” or snitch on another prisoner’s gang affiliation. However, as Castaneda said, snitching in prison can bring about sometimes violent reprisals against the inmate or their family. Critics say the practice of “debriefing” often leads to false testimonies because an inmate is desperate to leave solitary confinement.
For an hour or less a day, prisoners are let outside, alone, into an area little bigger than their cells with 20-foot-high walls and no direct sunlight. Family members of prisoners describe inmates with very white, almost bluish, skin due to their prolonged confinement.
“They are just alone for years,” said Castaneda. “It is torture and inhumane, and there is no rehabilitation.”
Castaneda has been working with the Center for Constitutional Rights in obtaining the support of prisoners in petitioning the United Nations to investigate inmate abuse.
[FOR THE RECORD: It was mistakenly reported that Castaneda was working with the Center for Constitutional Rights. She is working with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.]
There are several treaties that obligate the U.S. to conform to international standards against torture and inhumane treatment, such as the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1976 and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
It is Castaneda’s hope that the U.S. will be held accountable before a U.N. criminal court.
“We are asking them to come inside California prisons,” she said. “We want them to go talk to the inmates and take their reports back to the United Nations. Then we will be filing, in international court, against America, basically.”
According to organizers, there is another hunger strike looming due to the CDCR not meeting the demands of the prisoners from the last two strikes. Prisoners are calling the CDCR to eliminate group punishments, abolish the practice of “debriefing,” end long-term solitary confinement and provide adequate food and clothing.
Fred Hampton Jr., son of former Black Panther leader Fred Hampton who was killed in a questionable police raid in 1969, was present at the meeting. He spoke of the need to organize and fight for the freedom of political prisoners in the U.S.
Others voiced their concerns about the infiltration of for-profit interests within the prison system and tied that into the occupy movement’s ethos of keeping corporate influence in check. According to Michael Novick of Anti-Racist Action Los Angeles, Occupy Oakland has called for an “Occupy the Prisons” action on Feb. 20 at San Quentin State Prison. A similar demonstration is planned that day at 3:00 p.m. in LA at the men’s county jail.
“I would urge everyone to get out there and demonstrate to the world that those people are in there for us and we are out here for them,” he said.
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