Switching how it keeps count, California officials Thursday said the state had more than 12,400 inmates officially on hunger strike, having refused state meals for at least three days.
The corrections department refused to say where those protests are taking place. Without citing evidence, department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman asserted the hunger strike is “organized by prison gangs.” She said to identify which prisons are and are not involved in the protests “could put inmates who are not participating in extreme danger.”
The number of inmates refusing to attend classes or go to their prison jobs Thursday was 1,300.
The corrections department also confirmed for the first time that it would discipline inmates who participate in the hunger strike, largely a protest over conditions in solitary confinement but also including grievances over prison food, rehabilitation programs and other policies.
In a written statement, the department said it is against state law for inmates to “participate in a mass disturbance” and protesters would be subject to discipline, including possibly being moved into isolation themselves. They also face seizure of any food stored in their cells.
The Times reported on those threats Wednesday.
Inmates and their family members told the newspaper on Thursday that inmates in some prisons were being locked into their cells and telephone calls were being blocked. “I only pray we get visits this weekend,” said one woman who was unable to communicate with her boyfriend at the state prison in Norco.
The number of official hunger strikers, while less than half of the 30,000 who began refusing meals Monday, is roughly double the number of those who participated in statewide prison protests two years ago, over largely the same issues.
Inmate leaders, housed at Pelican Bay State Prison, say the current protests are a “resumption” of those strikes.
Follow hunger strike updates on Twitter: @paigestjohn