The health conditions of inmates who are striking to protest conditions in the California state prison system's maximum-security units have "deteriorated to critical levels," and some prisoners could start to die if immediate action isn't taken, activists say.
The strike began two weeks ago at the infamously rough Pelican Bay State Prison over conditions in that facility's Security Housing Unit (SHU), where dangerous prisoners are lodged in cramped cells without access to natural light and open space for prolonged periods. Since then, the strike has spread to other California prisons, with reports that thousands of inmates are now refusing state-issued meals.
"This situation is grave and urgent," Carol Strickman, a lawyer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, said in a statement. "We are fighting to prevent a lot of deaths at Pelican Bay. The [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] needs to negotiate with these prisoners, and honor the request of the strike leaders to have access to outside mediators to ensure that any negotiations are in good faith."
State prison officials have said that the hunger strike is a ploy by violent gang members to win better accommodations and demonstrate their influence over other inmates throughout the prison system.
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