SACRAMENTO -- California prisons chief Jeffrey Beard has agreed to meet with advocates for the state's protesting prisoners, but his office insists it does not signal a willingness to negotiate.
"This should not be referred to as mediation or negotiation," said Deborah Hoffman, assistant communications secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "It is a meeting or you can call it discussions."
Beard is to meet Friday afternoon with leaders from several inmate advocacy organizations, including California Prison Focus and the American Friends Service Committee.
He "wants to ensure he hears the advocates' concerns and that they understand the various changes that have ... taken place in the Security Housing Units over the past two years," Hoffman said.
Nevertheless, inmate advocates described Beard's willingness to meet as an improvement over earier talks with lower-level administrators.
"We think that's progress," said Ron Ahnen, president of Oakland-based California Prison Focus. "We think if talking with Secretary Beard, you're going to have a good chance to be heard."
The hunger strike that began July 8 is now in its 26th day. The corrections department said 499 inmates were on hunger strike status Thursday, with 331 refusing meals since the start. Five inmates received medical care on Thursday, including one hospitalized at the prison hospital in Corcoran with weakness and pain in the area of his kidneys.
Meanwhile, prison officials denied allegations made Thursday by Ahnen that medical staff attempted to force a hunger striker at Corcoran to accept a glucose supplement, and that an elderly prisoner at Pelican Bay had been pepper-sprayed while guards searched his cell for food.
"Officials at Pelican Bay State Prison and California State Prison-Corcoran deny these allegations occurred," said spokeswoman Terry Thornton.
However, she asked that those who have such complaints provide enough details for prison staff to investigate.
"CDCR does not tolerate misconduct and any allegations will be fully investigated," she said.
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