California Prison Hunger Strike

July 8 – September 5, 2013

Following more delays and slow response to 2011 hunger strikes, Pelican Bay prisoners start another hunger strike in California. Over 30,000 prisoners join in, including hundreds throughout the United States. This is the largest hunger strike in history, bringing the issue of solitary confinement to the attention of the media, legislators, the United Nations, and the public in general.

The strike centers around the same 5 core demands from previous efforts in 2011:

1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse – This is in response to PBSP’s application of “group punishment” as a means to address individual inmates rule violations. This includes the administration’s abusive, pretextual use of “safety and concern” to justify what are unnecessary punitive acts. This policy has been applied in the context of justifying indefinite SHU status, and progressively restricting our programming and privileges.

2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria

  • Perceived gang membership is one of the leading reasons for placement in solitary confinement.
  • The practice of “debriefing,” or offering up information about fellow prisoners particularly regarding gang status, is often demanded in return for better food or release from the SHU. Debriefing puts the safety of prisoners and their families at risk, because they are then viewed as “snitches.”
  • The validation procedure used by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employs such criteria as tattoos, readings materials, and associations with other prisoners (which can amount to as little as greeting) to identify gang members.
  • Many prisoners report that they are validated as gang members with evidence that is clearly false or using procedures that do not follow the Castillo v. Alameida settlement which restricted the use of photographs to prove association.

3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement – CDCR shall implement the findings and recommendations of the US commission on safety and abuse in America’s prisons final 2006 report regarding CDCR SHU facilities as follows:

  • End Conditions of Isolation (p. 14) Ensure that prisoners in SHU and Ad-Seg (Administrative Segregation) have regular meaningful contact and freedom from extreme physical deprivations that are known to cause lasting harm. (pp. 52-57)
  • Make Segregation a Last Resort (p. 14). Create a more productive form of confinement in the areas of allowing inmates in SHU and Ad-Seg [Administrative Segregation] the opportunity to engage in meaningful self-help treatment, work, education, religious, and other productive activities relating to having a sense of being a part of the community.
  • End Long-Term Solitary Confinement. Release inmates to general prison population who have been warehoused indefinitely in SHU for the last 10 to 40 years (and counting).
  • Provide SHU Inmates Immediate Meaningful Access to: i) adequate natural sunlight ii) quality health care and treatment, including the mandate of transferring all PBSP- SHU inmates with chronic health care problems to the New Folsom Medical SHU facility.

4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food – cease the practice of denying adequate food, and provide a wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals, and allow inmates to purchase additional vitamin supplements.

  • PBSP staff must cease their use of food as a tool to punish SHU inmates.
  • Provide a sergeant/lieutenant to independently observe the serving of each meal, and ensure each tray has the complete issue of food on it.
  • Feed the inmates whose job it is to serve SHU meals with meals that are separate from the pans of food sent from kitchen for SHU meals.

5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates.

Examples include:

  • Expand visiting regarding amount of time and adding one day per week.
  • Allow one photo per year.
  • Allow a weekly phone call.
  • Allow Two (2) annual packages per year. A 30 lb. package based on “item” weight and not packaging and box weight.
  • Expand canteen and package items allowed. Allow us to have the items in their original packaging [the cost for cosmetics, stationary, envelopes, should not count towards the max draw limit]
  • More TV channels.
  • Allow TV/Radio combinations, or TV and small battery operated radio
  • Allow Hobby Craft Items – art paper, colored pens, small pieces of colored pencils, watercolors, chalk, etc.
  • Allow sweat suits and watch caps.
  • Allow wall calendars.
  • Install pull-up/dip bars on SHU yards.
  • Allow correspondence courses that require proctored exams.

Outside supporters stage numerous successful rallies and effectively use media to galvanize public attention and sympathy. Prisoners and detainees all across the country join the hunger strike.

On July 22nd, Billy “Guero” Sell, a hunger striker in Corcoran prison dies. Medical examiners rule his death a suicide, but he had been on hunger strike for three weeks, and requested medical assistance repeatedly in the days before his death.

In mid-August, prisoners from the “short corridor collective” at Pelican Bay SHU issue an “agreement to end hostilities” announcing that “beginning on October 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups… in SHU, Ad-Seg, General Population, and County Jails, will officially cease.” It is followed by a “statement to the streets” calling for a similar agreement for people outside the prison walls.

On August 19 prison admins convince a judge that participants in the strike have been coerced and secure an order to begin force feeding them. On September 5, the short corridor collective insist that this is a lie, but suspend the strike, pending more negotiations and public hearings with CDCR.

Strikers continued to suffer retaliation, including a campaign of sleep deprivation where Correctional Officers noisily come through seg units on 30 minute intervals conducting “welfare checks”. At the same time, supporters continued to rally and hold media attention, including a dramatic visit to the Pelican Bay SHU by Shane Brauer, who spent over 2 years in an Iranian prison.

On September 1, 2015 prisoner’s finally declare a partial victory after winning a lawsuit that ends indeterminate solitary confinement and dramatically reduces the number of people in isolation.

According to some reports, California’s use of segregation is again rising. Many prisoners are being sent to segregation based on informant testimony, conspiracy allegations or compulsory “protective custody”. All four main negotiators from the hunger strike were back in long term isolation by 2018.


“50 Days without Food”, Mother Jones, August 27, 2013

“Agreement to End Hostilities“, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, August 12, 2013

“Statement to the Streets”, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, October 2013

“Advocates Call for Investigation of Corcoran Prison Death, Medical Professionals Demand Gov. Negotiate with Hunger Strikers“,  Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, July 28, 2013

“Statement Suspending Third Hunger Strike”, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, September 5, 2013

“Sleep Deprivation in California Solitary”, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, September 2015

Asker v Governor of California”, Center for Constitutional Rights, September 1, 2015

As long as Solitary Exists, They Will Find a Way to Use It”, Solitary Watch, 2018


Timeline from 2011-2013