Revolution #240, July 24, 2011

California Prison Officials Respond to Questions

Journalists have been prevented from visiting California’s prisons to independently assess the conditions prisoners face, the state of their hunger strike, and the health of the hunger strikers.  Information is getting out about the situation from prisoners and their families and supporters.  California government authorities are also issuing statements concerning the prisons and the hunger strike.  Revolution interviewed state officials and here is what they said.

Governor Jerry Brown’s office, which has overall authority over the prisons, has not issued any statements on the strike or the prisoners’ demands (which the prisoners sent to Brown’s office).  Both times we called Brown’s press office, we were told press spokespeople were too busy to talk to us, but they’d call back. They have yet to do so.  Instead, our message was passed directly to Terry Thornton, the spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) which runs the prisons.

 Revolution spoke at length with Thornton, on July 13.  First, she dismissed the report from the prisoners themselves and their supporters that the “medical conditions for many strikers have deteriorated to critical levels, with fears some prisoners could start to die if immediate action isn’t taken,” and information in a July 13 press release from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, that some hunger strikers “are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for three days.  Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated.”

“The prisoners’ health is NOT deteriorating,” Thornton stated.  “The accounts going around of inmates’ health ‘seriously deteriorating’ are incorrect—a handful have been treated for dehydration.”

When asked about the prisoners’ demands, Thornton said the CDCR “reviewed and evaluated the demands last month, before the strike.” During our interview we asked Thornton about each specific demand.  Her replies indicated that the CDCR felt all the prisoners’ demands were either unwarranted, unnecessary, or impossible to accommodate, with the exception of one part of one demand which was being “reviewed.”

When pressed around each of the individual demands of the prisoners, Thornton basically defended the conditions in the SHU and contradicted what many prisoners, human rights groups, and legal observers have reported.

When Revolution asked why prison officials were not negotiating with strikers about their demands, Thornton said the prisoners were coercing prison authorities:  “This is a demonstration and the CDCR will not be manipulated or coerced,” she stated.  “This is not the appropriate way to express their concerns. There are many other appropriate avenues to do this.”

Revolution asked why prison officials thought prisoners were willing to starve themselves to death.  To this, Thornton said, “Don’t think that we are not concerned. We are concerned. We are concerned for the inmates and we are concerned that these inmates are taking away medical resources from other inmates.”

More on this interview and responses from other officials will be posted soon on


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