CRESCENT CITY, California—As California inmates are into their third week of resumed hunger strikes, questioning the prison system perpetuating their situation is in order.
On 26 September, the Viễn Đông reported that California inmates at Pelican Bay and Calipatria State prisons were beginning round two of their hunger strike, protesting prison conditions in the State prisons’ secure housing units (SHU).
According to California Prison Focus, a tray is brought to a SHU inmate’s cell and if the inmate denies the tray, that inmate is counted as being part of the strike.
Any other inmates participating in the strike are sent to the SHU.
Inmates had originally began protesting on 1 July 2011 and ended on 21 July 2011 as thousands of inmates grew too weak to continue one of the largest prison strikes in California.
Plus, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to meet the inmates’ core demands by addressing prisoners’ rights. However, those demands have not yet been met, causing the inmates to resume their refusal of food.
The more than 100 inmates initially resuming the strike reported that inmates staying in the SHU were subject to torture and extreme solitary confinement.
Nearly 12,000 California prisoners joined the strike in the first few days, though numbers are declining with increased repression from the CDCR, as well as poor medical treatment, lack of access to lawyers, and denial of family visits.
Though, California inmates are not the only inmates in the United States who reportedly suffer inhumane prison conditions.
One of the largest U.S. prison corporations building prisons and housing prisoners nationwide, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has also been ridiculed for its inadequate training, torturous and even lethal conditions.
If such conditions are occurring, how can they be possible in a country which chastises other nations for lacking human rights?
Convict lease system
It’s interesting to note that over half the U.S. prison population consists of ethnic minorities, mainly Black and Latino.
After the institution of slavery legally ended in 1865 and the southern U.S. no longer benefitted from free slave labor, southern states needed funding. Adding to the loss of slaves was the loss of the Civil War, which was also expensive for the South.
Though, there was a way to legally “reinstitute” slavery and procure the funding needed to rebuild the southern states: the convict lease system.
In this system, prison labor was sold to private individuals, generating funds for the state. Black people, who were convicted at higher rates and imprisoned for longer periods than Whites, were convicted of crimes and auctioned off by the state to the highest bidder, the same way they would have been auctioned off to slavery.
Black men, as well as women and children, worked more than 12 hours a day and were forced to live together in close quarters, subject to physical abuse and malnourishment.
According to early-mid 1900’s influential sociologist Mr. W.E.B. DuBois, the southern states profited $50,000 in 1890, due to the convict lease system.
Is there a clear enough connection between the convict lease system in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s and the current prison system today, which also allows states to profit from prisoners?
In order to make profit, the CCA must keep its prisons full. States sell their inmates to the privately owned CCA, which houses them in CCA built and run prisons.
Though California operates under the CDCR, the State has contracts with out of state CCA prisons, sending some of its inmates out of state to alleviate prison overcrowding.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the CCA, which maximizes profit by reducing medical, food, and clothing services to inmates.
As a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which was exposed this summer by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the CCA has been involved in backing legislation that can keep inmates imprisoned indefinitely.
ALEC is a corporate funded council consisting of corporate leaders and politicians who meet behind closed doors and vote on bills to re-write state laws. The corporations are considered equals with elected politicians, voting on bills that affect state education, taxes, health care, worker rights and more.
The brief process for drafting bills through ALEC includes debate among all members, with voting done separately between private corporate members and public politicians.
Before the ALEC model bills are introduced to the state legislature, the corporations’ names have been removed. Corporation endorsements or authoring of bills is then secret.
According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), ALEC was involved with drafting model bills, like what became California’s “Three Strikes Laws” in a 1994 ballot initiative.
The “Three Strikes Laws” increased the penalties against two-time violent or serious criminals, giving them prolonged prison sentences, even life imprisonment, if they committed even a nonviolent crime a third time.
Thought to consider
Are California prisoners protesting about more than inhumane prison conditions?