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Religious leaders: End Calif. prisoners’ hunger strike, reform use of solitary confinement

Editor's note: The California prisoners suspended the hunger strike on Sept. 5, 2013. Please visit for the latest information.

Quakers, national coalition, prisoner supporters urge prompt action

PHILADELPHIA  (July 12, 2013)  -  The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the National Religious Coalition Against Torture, and Prisoner Hunger Solidarity Coalition urge California Gov. Jerry Brown to humanely end the largest prisoner hunger strike in state history by reforming the use of solitary confinement.

The groups stand in support of the prisoners’ core demands for reform – all related to solitary confinement. In solitary, prisoners are confined to a small, windowless cell, without sunlight, fresh air, meaningful human contact or constructive activity for many years, even decades.

“We are calling on the governor to honor the reasonable core demands of prisoners in SHU (Security Housing Units) in order to bring this hunger strike to a swift and humane end,” said Laura Magnani of the AFSC’s San Francisco program.

The religious partners are asking religious leaders from throughout California and the U.S. to sign an open letter to Gov. Brown and urging all people of faith to invite their community’s religious leaders to join this call.

The strike began this week, when nearly 30,000 California prisoners resumed their hunger strike until their demands for prison reforms are met. Laura is one of the inmate-chosen mediators who negotiated an end to the 2011 hunger strikes begun by Pelican Bay prisoners that spread throughout the system. Small changes emerged following that year’s actions, but for the majority of the more than 14,000 prisoners held in extreme isolation, the torture continues.

For many years Laura has been working to improve prison conditions. She has flagged the conditions in isolation units as “so dehumanizing, it’s almost unimaginable,” describing near-constant noise and cell extractions by guards who barge into cells and put prisoners in hog-ties.

Watch: Solitary Confinement: Cruel and Inhuman

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Laura’s work reflects AFSC’s long history of addressing solitary confinement. After receiving inmate letters in the 1980s, AFSC began a national effort, the Campaign to Stop Control Unit Prisons. Through the years AFSC operated the Prison Watch program and, most recently, the Stopmax campaign. Our programs have described conditions of isolation, shared inmates’ experiences and helped inmates cope with solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement, characterized by 23-hour a day lockout with minimal exercise and lack of human contact, affects an estimated 100,000 inmates in federal and state prisons in almost every state. The use of solitary confinement has exploded in this country. While prison populations have increased 28 percent, administrative segregation (permanent classification) increased 31 percent and disciplinary (“temporary” classification) increased 68 percent.

The isolation of solitary confinement severely affects all inmates’ mental health, making re-entry to society all the more difficult. For those with pre-existing mental conditions, such consequences are even worse.

AFSC believes that solitary confinement violates the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution's cruel and unusual punishment clause. The United Nations Committee against Torture has found that the practice violates international law, as well. 

Buried Alive - California
A report on long-term isolation in California’s youth and adult prisons
The prison inside the prison

Isolation and lockdown (confining prisoners to their cells for 23 to 24 hours a day) have traditionally been used as temporary measures, to punish individual prisoners or control the prison environment. Written in 2003, "The prison inside the prison" looks at the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

Torture in U.S. prisons

This 2011 report presents prisoners’ testimonies of torture and abuse alongside related international human rights agreements.

Survivors manual: How to survive in solitary confinement

Through letters, poetry, and practical advice on surviving the miseries of solitary confinement, this book offers tips on mental, physical, and spiritual survival. Written by and for people living in control units, it was originally published in 1998. This fifth edition was released in 2012.

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