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Inmates Across California Join Hunger Strike Over Conditions

NPR icon by Doreen McCallister
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Ben Margot

Thousands of prisoners across the state are expressing solidarity with inmates being held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California.

It is a maximum security facility and problem inmates are held in the Security Housing Unit. Some inmates have been in the SHU, pronounced shoe, for decades.

The SHU is a place to put the "worst of the worst," says Michael Montgomery, a reporter for member station KQED and the Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization in Berkeley, Calif.

He tells Morning Edition host Renee Montagne, "Men are placed in there after the Department of Corrections has determined they are prison gang members or that they have done really bad things in prison."

At one time 30,000 inmates joined the hunger strike but that number has dropped to below 29,000, according to The Associated Press.

Michael tells Renee, Prison Bay "inmates were able to coordinate the hunger strike through letters and visits, and families and advocates have helped get the word out to prisons throughout the state."

The hunger strike was planned after Gov. Jerry Brown declared in January that the prison crisis was over. Brown called on federal officials to end the oversight of the state's prisons.

In the last two years, three hunger strikes have been conducted to protest conditions in the state's prisons.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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