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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pelican Bay Inmates Reach Agreement to End Racial Hostilities in CA Institutions

Yeah - you read it right. What follows is the press release:

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The statement calls for the cessation of all hostilities between groups to commence October 10, 2012, in all California prisons and county jails. “This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end,” the statement says. It also calls on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes. The Short Corridor Collective states, “If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues.” In the past, California prisoners have attempted to collaborate with the Department of Corrections to bring an end to the hostilities, but CDCR has been largely unresponsive to prisoners’ requests. The statement warns prisoners that they expect prison officials to attempt to undermine this agreement.

“My long-time experience in urban peace issues, gang truces, prevention and intervention, is that when gang leaders and prisoners take full stock of the violence, and how they can contribute to the peace, such peace will be strong, lasting, and deep. I honor this effort as expressed in this statement,” says Luis J. Rodriguez, renowned violence intervention worker and award-winning author of Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. Rodriguez has helped broker gang truces throughout the US as well as in other parts of the world. This spring, Rodriguez was involved in a historic truce between gangs in El Salvador leading to a 70% drop in violence in that country. According to Rodriguez, “What is needed now—and where most peace efforts fail—is the meaningful and long-lasting support of society and government, in the form of prison reform, training, education, drug and mental health treatment and proper health care. We need an end to repressive measures that only feed into the violence and traumas.”

Azadeh Zohrabi of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition sees the agreement as a positive development that stems from last year’s hunger strikes. “While living through some of the worst conditions imaginable, the authors of this statement continue to work for change,” states Zohrabi. “While the prison administration drags its feet on even the most basic reforms, these guys are trying to build peace throughout the system. That says a lot their humanity and hope.” Advocates and the Short Corridor Collective are eager to spread the word as far and wide as possible and implement peace plans throughout California’s prisons and jails. “We must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention, and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners], and our best interests,” says the Collective. “The reality is that collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force, that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners, and thereby, the public as a whole.”

The PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective has strongly requested that its statement be read and referred to in whole. It can be found here.

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If this agreement will be respected by inmates in all CA institutions, it's a major, major breakthrough. Interracial violence is often seen as a ubiquitous fact of life within walls. It also speaks volumes about the impact that the Pelican Bay hunger strike has had on organizing inmates, who are realizing that in order to end solitary confinement and debriefing they need to fight a common enemy, rather than each other. This is huge, and might hopefully bring CDCR to discard extreme incarceration practices if they cannot be justified as gang violence prevention measures.

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cross-published to California Correctional Crisis.

Posted by Hadar Aviram on September 12, 2012 at 06:45 PM | Permalink

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Can you fill us in a bit more on the context? Maybe I'm not up on something that I should be, but I didn't know there was a hunger strike, and I've never heard of the Pelican Bay prison. What is the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition? And what is the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective?

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Sep 12, 2012 11:52:09 PM

Orin,

Hadar did provide some helpful links and I'm sure she'll fill you in with more details, but for now I have a post from last year when the strike began you can look at (again with links: an LA Times article and a piece by Sara Mayeux, of Prison Law Blog fame): http://www.religiousleftlaw.com/2011/07/pelican-bay-prisoners-on-hunger-strike.html

On Pelican Bay, see the Wikipedia entry and especially the external links. Several articles, in addition to the links from Wikipedia entry, have discussed solitary confinement in one way or another at Pelican Bay, including a piece on solitary confinement by Daniel Brook still available online: "History of Hard Time," Legal Affairs (Jan./Feb. 2004) and Atul Gawande's article in The New Yorker: "Hellhole" (March 30, 2009).

Lisa Guenther had a piece in The Stone, a blog at The New York Times: “The Living Death of Solitary Confinement” (August 26, 2012), that provides a nice introduction to the subject with execellent links as well, including to several important and much longer articles.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Sep 13, 2012 1:35:01 AM

Thanks, Patrick! Orin, to your question - several thousand inmates, 7000 at the height of the strike, protested conditions in solitary confinement as well as a proceeding known as "debriefing", which allows one out of a terrible regime of 22.5 hours a day of solitary confinement (for years!) only if one disavows membership in a gang and provides informations (a regime referred to by Keramet Reiter as "parole, snitch, or die.") This of course provides motivation for half-baked, inaccurate information, which then means more people are swept into the solitary confinement wing.

The acronym SHU stands for Security Housing Unit - a euphemism for solitary confinement.

In September of last year, a hunger strike started. You'll find my blow-to-blow coverage of the strike under the "Pelican Bay" tab in my blog; http://californiacorrectionscrisis.blogspot.com/search/label/pelican%20bay

One of the many amazing things about the strike was the fact that inmates across institutions, racial and gang affiliation barriers, united in action against these severe incarceration practices. This last agreement is nothing short of astounding, and if CA inmates really deliver on this promise, it'll be a remarkable moment in the history of inmate mobilization for rights. As a cynical friend of mine said yesterday, the sentiment is "wow! We hate CDCR more than we hate each other!"

Posted by: Hadar Aviram | Sep 14, 2012 9:25:43 AM

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