California prison hunger strike moves into fifth week

A guard watches inmate Javier Zubiate at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO -- As hundreds of California prisoners continue a hunger strike, medical staffers are struggling to keep tabs on the protest’s toll.

The medical receiver’s office, a court-appointed agency that runs prison healthcare services, reports that 31 inmates on the hunger strike have lost more than 10% of their body weight in the past month, with five of those losing more than 15% of their weight.

But 57 hunger strikers refuse to be weighed. Agency spokeswoman Joyce Hayhow said reasons for the refusals vary.


“Some are refusing all medical treatment, some don’t want to be inconvenienced, some may not want us to know how much weight they either have, or have not, lost,” she said.

The protest, which inmates say is over the use of isolation units, is now in its 31st day.

With the inmates unable to communicate with the media, family members and supporters are attempting to keep public attention on the protest by holding rallies in cities across the state, including events in Los Angeles.

California prisons chief Jeffrey Beard has dismissed the hunger strike as a bid by violent prison gangs to gain greater freedom to control the flow of drugs in the main prison population.

The receiver’s office on Tuesday said 10 hunger strikers received medical attention, including one man at Pelican Bay State Prison who was taken to a nearby hospital. According to agency spokeswoman Liz Gransee, the inmate was returned to the prison.

The Corrections Department reported 364 inmates on hunger strike Tuesday, meaning they had refused at least nine consecutive meals. A news release by the agency stated that 210 of those inmates had refused meals for 30 days.



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