An estimated 30,000 prisoners in California began refusing meals Monday in what may be the largest incarceration strike in history. The protest was organized by a small number of inmates at Pelican Bay Prison near the Oregon border. So far, it has spread to roughly two-thirds of California’s 33 lockups and four private out-of-state facilities. In addition to missing meals, an estimated 2,300 inmates also skipped work or their prison classes.

The inmates are protesting a number of prison policies, including those pertaining to indefinite isolation and group punishment. Their list of demands includes an end to long-term solitary confinement, improving access to adequate and nutritious foods and allowing one phone call per week.

“We are presently out of alternative options for achieving the long overdue reform to this system and, specifically, an end to state-sanctioned torture, and now we have to put our lives on the line via indefinite hunger strike to force CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] to do what’s right,” a statement posted to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition’s website said. “We are certain that we will prevail…. the only questions being: How many will die starvation-related deaths before state officials sign the agreement?”

Los Angeles Times:

Participants refused breakfast and lunch, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton.

…Corrections policy is not to declare a hunger strike until inmates miss nine meals. Even so, Thornton said, Monday’s protest participants number far more than two years ago, when 11,600 inmates were refusing meals at one point.

Thornton said prisons operated as usual despite the protests. “Everything has been running smoothly,” she said.

The action coincided with the start Monday evening of Ramadan, the annual period during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, possibly complicating authorities’ attempt to count the protesters.

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