Lawmakers call for hearings on prison conditions

A guard watches inmate Javier Zubiate in the isolation unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, Calif.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
<i>This post has been corrected, as indicated below.</i>

SACRAMENTO -- Lawmakers frustrated that a state prison hunger strike has gone on for seven weeks say it is time they took on the debate over solitary confinement themselves.

“The issues raised by the hunger strike are real ... and can no longer be ignored,” Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and her Assembly counterpart, Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said Friday.

They issued a joint call for hearings this fall on conditions within California’s super-maximum security prisons. The lawmakers ask inmates to end their hunger strike in the meantime. “Legislators recognize the core concerns raised by the inmates and their supporters and need no further sacrifice or risk of human life,” they said in a statement issued by their offices.

More than 150 inmates are currently refusing meals, 41 of them since the protest began 53 days ago, according to the corrections department. The protest began July 8, when more than 30,000 prisoners refused meals in a demand that California end its use of indefinite solitary confinement.

Court filings show more than 400 prisoners have been held for more than a decade in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison. They have sued the state, claiming long-term isolation is tantamount to torture, a position shared by the United Nations monitor on torture.


The state contends it needs such conditions to isolate and control members of violent prison gangs.

[For the record 6:04 p.m. Aug. 30: An earlier version of this post gave state Sen. Loni Hancock’s name as Lonnie.]


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