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More than 12,400 California inmates on hunger strike, officials say

SACRAMENTO — More than 12,400 California prison inmates were officially on hunger strike Thursday, having refused state meals for at least three days, officials said.

About 1,300 prisoners did not attend classes or go to their jobs. It was unclear how many others were participating in the protest, which began Monday with about 30,000 inmates.

Corrections officials confirmed they would discipline striking inmates, who object to conditions in solitary confinement and also have grievances about prison food, rehabilitation programs and other policies.

In a written statement, the officials said the state "does not condone" protests and it is illegal for inmates to "participate in a mass disturbance." Protesters will be subject to disciplinary measures and could be placed in isolation, the statement said.

They also face seizure of food stored in their cells, denial of visits and issuance of citations that could affect their chances for parole.

Inmates and their family members told The Times that some cellblocks were on lockdown and that telephone calls were being blocked.

"I'm very concerned about what's going to happen," said Delfina Brockway, who has two grandsons in solitary confinement at the prison in Tehachapi. "But they have to do something to get the people in Sacramento to realize they're humans and not animals."

A woman who said she was unable to communicate with her boyfriend at the prison in Norco was also worried. "I only pray we get visits this weekend," she said.

The hunger strike is "organized by prison gangs," said corrections spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman, who did not provide details about such gangs or their locations.

The strike is largely coordinated by inmates in solitary confinement. Most of the 4,500 in isolation are accused of gang ties, a broad classification that includes prisoners who have tattoos, books or artwork with gang-related messages or symbols.

Hoffman refused to name the facilities where the protests are taking place. That could lead to reprisals and "put inmates who are not participating in extreme danger," she said.

The protests also involve four out-of-state prisons where California inmates are housed.

The number of official hunger strikers Thursday was roughly double the number who participated in meal protests two years ago over largely the same issues.

Food is prepared for inmates at a cost of $3.14 each per day, according to corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. Refused meals, which are thrown away, "are part of the daily costs of running a prison," she said.

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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