Revolution #257, January 29, 2012

December 2011 Hunger Strike at Corcoran Prison

Once again there is a hunger strike in California’s barbaric prison system, with heroic prisoners putting their lives on the line to change the torturous conditions they are forced to endure. On December 28, prisoners in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) at Corcoran State Prison began the strike. This was a continuation of the resistance begun in 2011, when more than 12,000 prisoners across the state (with support in other states) participated in two major hunger strikes initiated by prisoners in the Pelican Bay Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU). Each strike lasted several weeks and exposed and rallied support against the torture of solitary confinement. (See “12,000 Prisoners Resume Hunger Strike in California,” Revolution #247, October 9, 2011.)

According to Terry Thornton, spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), 59 prisoners housed in the Administrative Segregation Unit at Corcoran State Prison refused their state-issued meals on December 28. Thornton alleges that after December 31, no prisoners were on hunger strike. However, after saying for days that no prisoners were refusing food, the prison officials admitted on January 13 that at least two prisoners were still on a hunger strike. There have also been unconfirmed reports of actions at other prisons in recent weeks.

Prior to the strike, three Corcoran ASU prisoners of three different nationalities sent a list of 11 demands to the head of the CDCR and the warden at Corcoran documenting conditions in the ASU and demanding “redress and reform of current inhumane conditions we are subjected to which violate our constitutional rights.” The demands included TVs and/or radios; an adequate law library; not being placed in the ASU upon completion of their SHU terms; adequate and timely medical care; adequate laundry; due process at hearings; phone access; uncontaminated canteen food; educational and rehabilitative programs and/or opportunities; the same privileges as SHU inmates; and no reprisals for exercising their right to petition. (The full petition is available at “New hunger strike: Petition for improved conditions in Administrative Segregation Unit at Corcoran State Prison,” December 30, 2011.)

In the California prison system, all prisoners in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) and Administration Segregation Units are kept in solitary confinement similar to the SHU. Ad-Seg is labeled “temporary” yet many prisoners have been kept in ASU for years, often awaiting transfers to SHUs. Conditions in Ad-Seg are often even worse than those in the SHU. For example, prisoners in the Corcoran ASU are not allowed TVs although prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU are—if they can afford to purchase one with their own funds.

A recent article by Kendra Castañeda, a prison human rights activist with a loved one currently incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison ASU, located in the Mojave Desert near the Mexican border, exposed some of the conditions in these facilities. According to the article, “The food is moldy, spoiled and rotten. Many men are not fed at all.” And prisoners are forced to “wear dirty laundry; their boxers get changed approximately every three months. They are holey, dirty and gross.”

Castañeda writes that prisoners “are allowed outdoors three times a week to ‘exercise’ in dog cages, but that schedule is not kept... Some of the men have been sitting in a concrete cell and denied permission to go outside to any yard for a long time.” Prisoners are denied TVs and radios, so hundreds of men are forced to stare at a concrete wall all day. At other times, she writes, “The men are forced to go outside in the winter desert cold with no shoes on, with their bare feet and no clothing but boxer shorts.”

Since the hunger strike started at Corcoran, the CDCR story has changed many times. The CDCR refuses to let members of the press interview prisoners. A student at Hastings School of Law was notified that her previously scheduled visit to the Corcoran SHU had been cancelled, as were all SHU visits. Prisoners in the SHU or ASU are not allowed any phone calls and letters can take weeks to be delivered, so visits by family and legal representatives are often the only way for information to get out of the prison. Prison authorities have repeatedly lied about previous actions by the prisoners.

Because of the isolation of the prisoners and the previous actions of the CDCR, there is cause for concern that the prison authorities are retaliating against the prisoners. In particular, there has been no word from the prisoners who wrote the list of demands. It is important to demand that these prisoners be given immediate access to relatives, legal representatives, and the media.

Prior to the second of 2011’s hunger strikes, CDCR announced that the prison system would consider refusing food in a hunger strike as equivalent to participating in “a mass disturbance.” Prisoners who participated in that hunger strike received disciplinary reports, which could subject them to longer prison terms or increased time in the SHU or ASU, or a transfer to either the SHU or ASU if they were not already there. Leaders of the strike were transferred to freezing cells and subjected to other forms of retaliation. It was reported that in Corcoran prisoners who participated in the strike were denied access to water.

While the full extent of the resistance behind the prison walls (or retaliation by prison authorities) is not known, what is clear is that anyone who cares about justice needs to support these prisoners and their just demands.

For more on conditions in California prisons and the prisoner hunger strikes, see previous issues of Revolution at and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity at


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