Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tony Platt on Pelican Bay

Historian Tony Platt has a wonderful blog post out about the Pelican Bay hunger strike, titled The Shame of California. You should really read the whole thing, but here is a short excerpt:

On July 1st, a small group of prisoners in Pelican Bay’s SHU, calling themselves the Short Corridor Collective, initiated a hunger strike, calling for the abolition of long-term solitary confinement, improvement in programs for SHU prisoners, and an end to various abusive administrative procedures. Unlike a similar action by prisoners in 2002, this strike drew the support of thousands of prisoners throughout the state. Moreover, Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity was so successful in getting out information about the strike that European human rights organizations urged the Governor to respond to prisoners’ demands and the New York Times carried an Op Ed condemning the “bestial treatment” of prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison (Colin Dayan, “Barbarous Confinement,” 17 July 2011).

During the strike, according to the Short Corridor Collective, at least seventeen strikers, including three leaders, were transferred to another prison for medical treatment. The Collective ended the action on July 22nd after gaining the right to wear cold weather caps, to have calendars in their cells, and to have access to educational programs in the SHU. Though these concessions by prison authorities are modest, we should not underestimate the larger significance of the strike. It draws worldwide attention to the widespread use of torturous practices by the United States against its own citizens; it forces the government of California to sit down, face-to-face, and negotiate with people who have been demonized as semi-human beasts; and it raises the possibility of once again incorporating prisoners into a larger struggle for social justice.

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