Lawmakers to probe state prison conditions

The Bay Area lawmakers who chair the Legislature’s public safety committees announced Friday that they’ll hold public hearings on state prison conditions that have lead to a months-long inmate hunger strike.

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said the hearings might begin this fall and continue into 2014, focused upon confinement conditions in maximum-security prisons and long-term solitary confinement as both a prison-management strategy and a human-rights issue.

Tom Ammiano“The Courts have made clear that the hunger strikers have legitimate issues of policy and practice that must be reviewed,” Ammiano said in a joint news release. “The Legislature has a critical role in considering and acting on their concerns. We cannot sit by and watch our state pour money into a system that the US. Supreme Court has declared does not provide constitutionally acceptable conditions of confinement and that statistics show has failed to increase public safety.

“California continues to be an outlier in its use of solitary confinement, which has been recognized internationally and by other states to be an extreme form of punishment that leads to mental illness if used for prolonged periods of time,” Hancock said in the release. “Since many of these inmates will eventually have served their sentences and will be released, it is in all our best interest to offer hope of rehabilitation while they are incarcerated – not further deterioration.”

Hancock and Ammiano urged an immediate end to the hunger strike so that energy and attention can be focused on the issues that have been raised. The inmates have succeeded in bringing the issues to the public eye, they said, and there’s no need for further sacrifice or risk.

Dolores Canales, a member of the inmate strikers’ mediation team and mother of a convicted murderer in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State, said the prison activists appreciate the lawmakers’ action.

“Ultimately it is up to the hunger strikers’ themselves as to when and how they will end their protest,” she said. “But as their advocates on the outside, we feel positive about today’s developments.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Vikki

    Is their original joint statement available anywhere on-line?

  • Josh Richman

    @1 – Yes, you can see it here.

  • Elwood

    Loni and Tommy

    The definition of bleeding heart liberal fool.

    Oh, those poor prisoners! Oh, those poor murderers, robbers, torturers, and hardcore gangbangers! We must protect their human rights! Perhaps we can get the UN involved!

    My heart goes pittypat!

  • As a prison reform advocate, I call BS. This hunger strike is a thinly veiled ploy by prison gangs to get their leaders back out into the general population of inmates so they can have more control over ‘calling shots’ and trafficking drugs. While the Secured Housing Units do need help, and more improvements are on their way, eliminating them will do far more harm than keeping them (in their current condition). The hunger strike is nothing more than a tug at the emotional heart strings of bystanders.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    The biggest problem with the cruel, solitary punishment, is the fact these prisoners will get out of the hole someday & back on the streets. Which one of you trolls would like to meet them, when they are released?

  • Elwood

    I call BS on Bruce, whose sympathy for those in cruel solitary confinement makes my heart go pittypat. They never worried about cruelty to their victims, did they Bruce?

    Most of these ***holes are lifers who will never be on the street again.

    Here’s the solution to your problem, Bruce:

    Lock ’em up.

    Throw away the key.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    Let’s lock up Sac legislators in solitary for a few weeks so they can gain valuable insights on the ish. Start with Tommy A and Loni H; after that, choose at random.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    In China, they sell the worst of the worst criminals for parts. Something like what is done to unwanted dogs, who bite the artificial hand that feeds them. So maybe the die hard liberal politicians should be locked up in a cell with the worst of the worst, then they will want to sell the meanest ones for body parts, like they do in China.
    @6. Who said the inmates in solitary confinement are all lifers? If your reading comprehension was worth a rat’s dropping, Elwood, you would have read that I’m concerned with the convicts in solitary confinement being released someday.

  • Elwood

    @ 8

    Speaking of reading comprehension problems, what part of “most of” do you not understand?

    Don’t worry Brucie! MOST OF those ***holes will never see the light of day again other than through bars. And this is as it should be.

  • Elwood

    Prison Hunger Strikers Demand R Rated Movies, Better Cable


    Poor abused darlings!

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    @ 9 & 10. Thanks for making me look up the facts. Lifers are 1 in 5 in California & New York. 1 in 10 nationally. No resemblance to MOST OF. The prison systems are draining the states money. $1 million to keep a lifer. The older prisoners get, the more money in medical costs, to keep them locked up. 81 year old Charles Manson, does not want to get out.
    California’s 3 strikes law, puts stupid crooks & druggies in prison for life.
    As for convicts eeing the light of day. That is based mostly on behavior. Prisons have outdoor exercise areas.
    Amazing! You found a corrupt news source, more anti- liberal than anything I’ve found.

  • Elwood

    Brucie, Brucie, what are we going to do with you? We buy you books and you eat the covers.

    The issue here is not how many lifers are in prison, but how many of them are being held in solitary confinement. I’ll go with my original statement that most of the inmates of the SHU are lifers.

    You don’t understand metaphors very well do you? Prisoners can see the light of day in an exercise yard. You’re funny, Brucey.

    And gee whiz! Who knew that the SFChron is a corrupt anti-liberal news source? Only you, Brucey!

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Wikipedia is my favorite news source, when I’m to lazy to find an eye witness. 100% of the people I talk with, who were in any “Newspaper”, say the story was fiction.
    “News” on television, is mostly scripted, rehearsed & edited, for entertainment purposes. The Sum Ting Wong farce, was a rare exception.
    Fact #1. California’s recidivism rate @ 70%, is the highest in the nation.
    Fact #2. Solitary confinement does not improve anything.
    There is nothing funny about these facts El Woody.
    There is a remote possibility Loni & Tommy will find a way to change the dismal facts.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    In these troubled times, our thoughts turn to those courageous inmates of Pelican Bay who are struggling for dignity and recognition of their humanity. Yrs truly, Bashar al-Assad, MD

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    The good old U.S.A. is number one in the world, in incarceration rates & in the consumption of drugs. We beat India’s incarceration rate 716 to 30. Canada merely comes in with a rate of 114. Canada is right next door. What is the U,S. doing to win these dubious honers?
    Oh! we have war mongering Trolls, who are against the death penalty, while calling for bombing Syria & every other Muslim country, because their bully leader, wants to get peoples minds off reckless government spending & the dubious trophies.