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CA Prisoners Starving for Change

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A hunger strike that began earlier this month is nearing the end of its fourth week, with some 1,000 inmates at 11 prisons still refusing meals.

At issue is the widespread use of segregated housing units for prisoners in long-term solitary confinement.

Laura Magnani, a program director with American Friends Service Committee, says 15 days is considered the maximum time in the tiny windowless cells, yet the average stay is six years.

“They could be allowed time with other people,” she says. “They could be allowed visits with family on a regular basis, phone calls with family on a regular basis and access to programs. Those kinds of things would go a long way.”

Prison officials have called the hunger strike a mass disturbance that’s being organized by prison gangs.

Magnani says the conditions qualify as torture.

“It’s important that people recognize that this is a very courageous, highly venerated, non-violent practice that they’ve adopted,” she says. “Instead, the prison tends to treat it like a disturbance and to punish the people who are on hunger strike.”

Inmate advocates met with prison officials earlier this week, but Magnani says officials didn’t show any willingness to budge.