Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Prisoners Strike against Torture in California Prisons

By Marjorie Cohn, ZNet, July 19, 2011

The torture of prisoners in U.S. custody isn’t confined to foreign countries. For more than two weeks, inmates at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison have been on a hunger strike to protest torturous conditions in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) there. Prisoners have been held for years in solitary confinement, which can amount to torture. Thousands of inmates throughout California’s prison system have refused food in solidarity with the Pelican Bay prisoners, bringing the total of hunger strikers to more than 1,700.

Inmates in the SHU are confined to their cells for 22 ½ hours a day, mostly for administrative convenience. They are released for only one hour to walk in a small area with high walls. The cells in the SHU are eight feet by 10 feet with no windows. Fluorescent lights are often kept on 24 hours per day.

Solitary confinement can lead to hallucinations, catatonia and even suicide, particularly in mentally ill prisoners. It is considered torture, as journalist Lance Tapley explains in his chapter in The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse.

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