By Anthony Castillo
If you ever think that protests, hunger strikes, and speaking truth to power is futile — Think again. The very first article I wrote for the Beachhead (September 2013# 383) was on the then ongoing California prison hunger strikes that centered around the state’s extensive use of solitary confinement. I have great news to update Beachhead readers on that struggle. After three hunger strikes, and a pending law suit, the prisoners have won their battle with the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation (CDCR), and Governor Jerry Brown.
This victory is huge! Virtually all the prisoners’ core demands were agreed to in this recent settlement with the state. No longer will prisoners be held in indefinite solitary confinement, a practice the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture calls cruel punishment amounting to torture. All the cases of the more than 12,000 prisoners held in Security Housing Units (SHU) aka solitary confinement will be reviewed. Prisoners will immediately be given two hours outside of the SHU cells, up from the previous one hour a day before the settlement. No longer will there be a “debriefing policy” to get out of the SHU. In other words, ratting out other prisoners at the expense of one’s safety or the safety of ones family. There will also no longer be group punishment because an individual prisoner incurs a rules infraction.
There are more good reforms to this settlement that I won’t go into now. But maybe this will be the beginning of the end of the use of solitary confinement not only in this state, but across all of the US? After numerous loses in the courts over the state’s prison overcrowding and other backward policies, the state was bound to lose yet again, over it’s extensive and arbitrary use of solitary confinement. So rather that fight a loosing battle they conceded to the prisoners demands. But none of this would have happened if the inmates of California’s prisons had not put racial hostilities aside and found solidarity with one another, and put their bodies on the line. This victory should be an inspiration to us all, when even the most marginalized population, the incarcerated can claim victory over the CDCR and Governor Brown. Come on Venice, let us all work for the city hood we so richly deserve. Compared to what these brave prisoners have gone through, cityhood seems easy.